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Volume II 

From Military Assistance to Combat 



Edward J. Marolda 
Oscar P. Fitzgerald 

Naval Historical Center, Department of the Navy 
Washington, D.C. 1986 

Library of Congress Card No. 76-600006 

For sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office 
Washington, D.C. 20402 


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South Vietnam 

Secretary of the Navy's 

Advisory Committee 

on Naval History 


Richard W. Leopold 


Arthur D. Baker, III Augustus P. Loring 

James A. Field, Jr. Jon E. Mandaville 

John H. Kemble Forrest C. Pogue 


This second volume of the official history of the Vietnam War treats the 
period between 1959 and 1965, when the Navy's longstanding efforts to 
equip and train the South Vietnamese Navy began to be accompanied by 
unilateral operations in Southeast Asia on the part of U.S. naval forces. In 
addition to devoting considerable attention to the war in South and North 
Vietnam, this work details the Navy's actions in Laos, since developments 
in that country directly related to the defense of America's South 
Vietnamese allies. 

As was true for the first volume in the series, From Military Assistance to 
Combat is primarily an operational account. In general terms this book 
analyzes the use of seapower to advance U.S. strategic interests in 
Southeast Asia. In addition to describing the Navy's continuing efforts to 
strengthen the South Vietnamese Navy through the Military Assistance 
Program, its authors discuss the operations of U.S. and South Vietnamese 
forces off the Indochinese coast, in the skies over Laos and North 
Vietnam, and on the serpentine inland waterways of South Vietnam. To 
provide background for these subjects, considerable attention is given to 
the development of strategic policy at the Washington, Honolulu, and 
Saigon levels, and to the development of American naval concepts and 
capabilities to undertake counterinsurgency and limited war operations. 

This volume is based upon official naval records, to which the authors 
had full access, personal accounts by participants, and sources generated 
by other U.S. military services, joint commands, and governmental 
agencies. Nevertheless, the views expressed in this volume are those of 
the authors. Mr. Marolda and Dr. Fitzgerald do not necessarily speak for 
the Department of the Navy, nor have they attempted to present a 
consensus view of the war in Southeast Asia. The publication was 
reviewed and its contents declassified and cleared for release by relevant 
government agencies. Although the manuscript itself was declassified, 
some of the official sources cited in the volume remained classified at the 
time of publication. 

In presenting this history, the Naval Historical Center hopes to enhance 
the knowledge by present and future generations of Americans of one 


aspect of the nation's prolonged involvement in Southeast Asia. We also 
seek to acknowledge the dedication, honor, and self-sacrifice of the naval 
officers and men who served their country in this conflict. Although 
future conditions can never exactly replicate those of the past, we hope 
that an understanding of this chapter in the Navy's long history will 
inspire and instruct naval personnel as they carry out their crucial 
responsibilities to defend the security of the United States. 

John D.H. Kane, Jr. 
Rear Admiral, USN (Ret.) 
Director of Naval History 


The Authors 

Edward J. Marolda, an historian with the Naval Historical Center since 
1971, heads the Historical and Writing Section of the Operational 
Archives Branch. A graduate of Pennsylvania Military College and 
Georgetown University, where he received the B.A. and M.A. degrees in 
History, Mr. Marolda currently is a doctoral candidate at The George 
Washington University. His military experience includes command of 
U.S. Army units in Vietnam during 1969 and 1970. Mr. Marolda is the 
coauthor, with G. Wesley Pryce, III, o( A Short History of the United States 
Navy and the Southeast Asian Conflict, 1930-1973 and he has published 
articles in the Naval War College Revieiv, Naval Institute Proceedings , and 
other scholarly journals. At the present time, he is preparing Volume III 
in the official Vietnam history series. 

Oscar P. Fitzgerald, who now is the Director of the Navy Memorial 
Museum, served as head of the Historical and Writing Section, Operation- 
al Archives, from 1966 to 1979, during which time he contributed to this 
volume. He received his B.A. degree from Vanderbilt University and the 
M.A. and Ph.D. degrees in History from Georgetown University. Dr. 
Fitzgerald coauthored, with Vice Admiral Edwin B. Hooper and Dr. 
Dean C. AUard, the first volume in the Navy's official Vietnam history 
series and has written articles for a number of historical journals, including 
the Naval Institute Proceedings. 



The authors are grateful for the guidance and support provided 
throughout the preparation of this volume by Rear Admiral John D. H. 
Kane, Jr., the Director of Naval History. The project was under the 
immediate direction of Dr. Dean C. Allard, Head of the Operational 
Archives Branch. Dr. Allard 's knowledge of naval history and keen 
literary sense greatly enhanced the manuscript. Mr. G. Wesley Pryce, III, 
and Ms. Nina F. Statum, also of the Operational Archives, assisted in 
editing the book's many drafts. We are especially grateful to Mrs. 
Katherine J. Huie and YNC Charles A. M. Maze for their extra effort to 
prepare the manuscript for publication and to Ms. Marianne Conte for the 
professional quality of her typing. Mr. Charles R. Haberlein, Jr., and Mrs. 
Agnes F. Hoover of the Curator Branch assisted with the location and 
reproduction of the work's photographs. The charts, designed by Mr. 
Marolda, were prepared for publication by Les Davis Designs, Inc. The 
staff of the Navy Department Library, in particular Mr. John E. Vajda, Ms. 
Barbara A. Lynch, and Mrs. Carolyn H. Chase, was especially helpful in 
locating and acquiring source materials. Captain Manuel B. Sousa, Deputy 
Director of Naval History; and Commander Stanley D. Clark and Mrs. 
Mary W. Edmison of the Center's Administrative Branch provided 
essential support in the preparation of the manuscript through the 
publication and funding process. Finally, we are grateful to many other 
members of the Naval Historical Center who encouraged and supported 
us in our work. 

Special thanks must go to the distinguished reviewers of this volume, 
including Admiral Arleigh Burke and Admiral Harry D. Felt, who 
graciously read and commented on those chapters related to their terms as 
Chief of Naval Operations and Commander in Chief, Pacific, respectively. 
Admiral Horacio Rivero, former Vice Chief of Naval Operations, 
provided equally perceptive remarks on the chapters dealing with the 
Tonkin Gulf incidents. Vice Admiral Edwin B. Hooper, senior author of 
Volume I in the Vietnam series and former Director of Naval History, 
provided a thorough and insightful review of the entire manuscript for 
which the authors are deeply grateful. Captain William H. Hardcastle, a 


former Chief, Naval Advisory Group, Vietnam, thoughtfully commented 
on those chapters relating to the development of the Vietnamese Navy. 
Additionally, Dr. James A. Field, Jr., a distinguished scholar and member 
of the Secretary of the Navy's Advisory Committee on Naval History, 
prepared an invaluable critique of an earlier draft of this work. Captain 
Mitchell J. Karlowicz, Captain David A. Young, and Commander John C. 
Bruce, officers assigned to the Naval Historical Center, completed 
valuable research projects in support of the history. Colleagues in the 
historical offices of the other armed services, including Mr. Jack Shulim- 
son. Dr. V. Keith Fleming, Jr., and Mr. Charles R. Smith of the Marine 
Corps Historical Center; Mr. Vincent H. Demma of the Army Center of 
Military History; and Mr. Warren A. Trest of the Office of Air Force 
History deserve our thanks for their pertinent comments on the narrative 
and consistent moral support of the authors on the long trail from 
conception to publication. 

Grateful as we are for these reviews, the authors accept full responsibili- 
ty for the conclusions drawn in this history and for any errors in fact. 

Edward J. Marolda 
Oscar P. Fitzgerald 


Chapter Title Page 

Foreword v 

Acknowledgements ix 

Charts and Illustrations xiii 

I. The Navy and the Evolution of U.S. Strategy, 1958-1960 . 1 

II. The Laotian Vortex, 1959-1960 22 

III. Confrontation Over Laos, 1961-1962 59 

IV. The Navy, Counterinsurgency, and the Growing Threat 

in South Vietnam, 1959-1961 88 

V. U.S. Military Assistance and the Vietnamese Navy 130 

VI. The Seventh Fleet's Contribution to the Limited Part- 

nership, 1961-1963 164 

VII. The Navy Enters the Fight Against Communist Insur- 

gency 189 

VIII. The Naval Advisory and Logistic Support Effort in 

Vietnam, 1961-1963 219 

IX. Perceptions of the Conflict in South Vietnam and the 

Diem Coup 264 

X. Readiness of the Fleet for Limited War, 1961-1964 277 

XL The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy in a 

Year of Turmoil, 1964 298 

XII. Naval Support to the Counterinsurgency Struggle 334 

XIII. Fleet Air Operations Over Laos 366 

XIV. Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 393 

XV. The American Response to the Tonkin Gulf Attacks 437 

XVI. Preparations for an Expanded Conflict 463 

XVII. The Navy Begins Extended Combat Operations in 

Southeast Asia, 1965 494 


Chapter Title Page 

Appendix I. Key U.S. Naval Leaders, 1959-1965 535 

Appendix II. Glossary' of Abbreviations and Terms 537 

Appendix III. Larger Vessels of the South Vietnamese Navy, 1959-1965 545 

Bibliographic Note 549 

Index 561 


Charts and Illustrations 

(Illustrations identified by numbers preceded by USN, KN, or K are official U.S. Navy photographs and 
those preceded by NH are U.S. Naval Historical Center photographs.) 


South Vietnam (chan) frontispiece 

Secretary of the Navy Gates and Admiral Burke 5 

Marine helicopters land on board Princeton 12 

Southeast Asia (chart) 16 

Mainland Southeast Asia (chart) 19 

Lexington steams for the South China Sea 32 

Western Pacific ( chart) 35 

Joint Chiefs of Staff, I960 48 

Lieutenant John P. Sylva (CEC) meets Phoumi Nosavan 65 

Kearsarge enters Subic Bay 67 

Leaders of the national defense establishment, 1961 70 

Admirals Burke and Hostvedt inspect a Nasty class MTB 92 

Provinces of South Vietnam (chart) 105 

Admiral Felt bids farewell to Vice President Johnson 110 

U.S. naval officers call on Cambodian Defense Minister Lon Nol 119 

U.S. Organizational Structure for Military Assistance 133 

Organization of the South Vietnamese Navy, 1959-1963 136 

Rear Admiral Alfred G. Ward and Commander Ho Tan Quyen 141 

Vietnamese Navy LSIL Long Dao 144 

Mekong Delta (chart) 153 

17th Parallel Patrol (chan) 167 

Ocean minesweeper Pledge on coastal patrol 170 

Coastal Patrol in the Gulf of Siam (chart) 174 

President Ngo Dinh Diem on board Mahan 181 

EA-IF Skyraider at Cubi Point 186 

SEAL on patrol in the Rung Sat 191 

SEABEE Team Deployments in Central South Vietnam, (chart) 195 

PTF-3 and PTF-4 off Hawaii 207 

U.S. naval advisor observes training 222 

Vietnamese Naval Zone Commands (chart) 226 

Coastal Force junk patrol 235 

Sea Force LSSL Link Kiem 244 

Rung Sat Swamp (chan) 246 

Saigon (chart) 256 



Aircraft carrier Hancock 271 

Admirals Sharp and Moorer confer 274 

Motor gunboat Asheiille 290 

F-4 Phantom II test fires a Sparrow III missile 296 

U.S. naval advisors inspect Coastal Force quarters 300 

American naval advisor and Vietnamese counterpart 307 

Coastal Force Dispositions, January 1965 (chart) 315 

Area of the An Xuyen Quarantine (chart) 321 

Joint Operation at Ilo Ilo Island (chart) 328 

River assault group craft 331 

Coast of North Vietnam (chart) 336 

Guided missile cruiser Oklahoma City visits Saigon 345 

General Westmoreland on board Princeton 347 

SEABEE Team Deployment Sites in South Vietnam, 1964-1965 (chart) ... 351 

LST of Headquarters Support Activity, Saigon, loads supplies 360 

Saigon Station Hospital nurses awarded Purple Hearts 362 

Laotian Panhandle (chart) 374 

Lieutenant Klusmann describes captivity to Admiral Johnson 383 

Central Laos (chart) 387 

RF-8A Crusader flies over Ticonderoga 390 

Intended Track of the Desoto Patrol (chart) 401 

Destroyer Maddox 403 

Organization and Basing of North Vietnamese Naval Forces, 1964 408 

Track oi Maddox, 3 1 July-2 August 1964 (chart) 412 

Captain Herrick and Commander Ogier 413 

Naval Engagement of 2 August ( chart ) 416 

North Vietnamese P-4 MTBs attack Maddox 418 

Track o( Maddox and Turner Joy, 3-5 August 1964 (chart) 423 

Destroyer Turner Joy 428 

Naval Action on the Night of 4 August (chart) 430 

Areaof U.S. Naval Operations in North Vietnam, 1964-1965 (chart) 439 

A-4 Skyhawk launches from Ticonderoga 445 

North Vietnamese naval craft under air attack 448 

Enemy Swatow gunboat burns 450 

Attack Squadron 146 Skyhawks fly over Constellation 458 

Soviet-made MiG fighter 47 1 

Ranger ordnancemen load bombs on a Sky raider 481 

A- 1 Skyraider launches from Ranger 499 

Command Arrangements for Rolling Thunder 503 

Task Force 7 7 at Yankee Station 508 

F-4 Phantom II bombs Viet Cong positions 516 

Market Time Patrol Areas (chart) 518 

SP-2 Neptune patrol plane of Market Time 520 



LCU 1476 transports Marine equipment ashore at Danang 528 

Landing the Marines at Danang, 8 March 1965 (chart) 530 



The Navy and the Evolution of 
U.S. Strategy, 1958-1960 

The years from 1958 to I960 witnessed a reorientation in strategic 
thinking that eventually contributed to a more extensive involvement by 
the United States Navy in the continuing Vietnam conflict. During the last 
years of the Eisenhower administration, the defense community gave 
greater attention to the theories of limited war and "flexible" or 
"graduated military response." Naval officers played a large role in 
refashioning military policies based on these concepts. The emerging 
strategic outlook influenced the composition and capabilities of the 
American fleet of the 1960s. As a result, the Navy of the Kennedy and 
Johnson administrations was different in many respects from that of the 
preceding administration. 

Massive Retaliation 

Until the latter part of President Dwight D. Eisenhower's second term 
in office, the "massive retaliation" doctrine, which was influenced by the 
deterrent effect of U.S. superiority in nuclear weaponry, was an important 
element of American strategic thinking. The concept was enunciated in 
January 1954 by Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and reflected the 
nation's experience during the Korean War. The heavy cost in American 
lives and material resources and the discontent resulting from that 
conflict's limited nature and inconclusive end led to the Eisenhower 
administration's "New Look" in defense policy. The program was 
influenced by the strategic perception that the overwhelming manpower 
superiority of the Communist powers could be countered realistically only 
through nuclear warfare. At the same time, the financial cost to the United 


2 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

States of maintaining large tactical combat forces could be reduced 

It was not long, however, before many academic theorists and retired 
military officers challenged the wisdom of this approach.' Even Secretary 
of State Dulles, who first detailed the massive retaliation doctrine, publicly 
qualified his support for it in October 1957. The fundamental precepts of 
U.S. defense policy were further questioned after the Soviet Union 
demonstrated its technological sophistication with the Sputnik launch and 
orbit that same month. It then became apparent that the Communists had 
the potential for developing long-range nuclear warhead delivery systems, 
challenging the U.S. monopoly in this field. 

The following April, Dulles called for a serious review of strategic 
policy by the armed forces. The Secretary of State, at a meeting of the 
Armed Forces Policy Council on 7 April 1958, stated that "support for the 
present concept among our allies is diminishing rapidly" because the 
Soviet Union had also developed a lethal nuclear arsenal which would 
preclude resort to general war where "each side would wipe the other one 
out." The allies were concerned that the United States "would not invoke 
a massive retaliation under certain situations" such as limited conflicts or 
those where U.S. forces were not directly involved. Secretary Dulles went 
on to question, "are we prisoners of this retaliatory concept? Are our 
forces, our weapons and our strategy frozen to the use of general 
retaliation?" He was afraid that "perhaps our military establishment was 
getting unable to do anything but drop large nuclear weapons." The 
Secretary of Defense, Neil McElroy, replied that "the position and forces 
developed do [italics added] depend upon the strategic concept." Secre- 
tary of State Dulles called for "more flexibility than that concept alone will 
give us."" 

'Henry Kissinger, Nuclear Weapons and Foreign Policy (New York: Harper and Brothers, 195"') and 
Matthew B. Ridgway, Soldier: The Memoirs of Matlheu B. Ridguay (New York: Harper and Brothers, 
1936). See also Paul R. Schratz, "The Military Services and the New Look, 1953-1961: The Navy" in 
David H. White, ed., Proceedings of the Conference on War and Diplomacy (Charleston, SC: The Citadel, 
1976), pp. 140-43; Richard A. Aliano, American Defense Policy from Eisenhouer lo Kennedy: The Politics of 
Changing Military Requirements. 1957-1961 (Athens, OH: Ohio Univ. Press, 1975), pp. 24-46; Edward 
J. Marolda, "The Influence of Burke's Boys on Limited War," U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 
(hereafter USNIP), Aug 1981. 

"CNO, memo for record, "Report of Meeting with Secretary of State on Concept of Retaliation," 
ser 000188-58 of 7 Apr 1958. See also John Foster Dulles, "Challenge and Response in United States 
Policy," Foreign Affairs, Vol. 36, No. 1 (Oct 1957), p. 31; OP-93, memo, ser 0007P93 of 30 Oct 
1957; Arleigh A. Burke, transcript of interview with Richard Challener, John Foster Dulles Oral 

The Navy and the Evolution of U.S. Strategy' 3 

Development of the Flexible Response Concept 

The reanalysis of U.S. strategy within the national defense community 
already was underway, and it intensified in succeeding years. Advocates of 
a change in policy from one emphasizing nuclear retaliation to a more 
flexible system, using the full range of options available to the United 
States, included naval strategists and top-ranking officers. Present at the 
meeting with Dulles on 7 April was Admiral Arleigh A. Burke, Chief of 
Naval Operations (CNO), who stressed the need "to have the capability 
for deterring or fighting general nuclear war, for large local wars and for 
small local wars. We needed tactical nuclear weapons. We needed to have 
a capability for conventional weapons and plans to use them. We needed 
to be able to move fast."^ 

The following month. Admiral Burke, writing to Lord Louis Mountbat- 
ten, British First Sea Lord and Chief of Staff of the Royal Navy, expressed 
his concern that perhaps the concentration on nuclear war "has caused us 
to generate excessive forces for retaliation and not give enough thought to 
those forces useable in more limited situations." He added that "nuclear 
retaliatory forces will not solve the myriad other problems with which we 
are confronted." The Chief of Naval Operations, anticipating future 
crises, warned that "if we go too far on the megaton road we will, 1 think, 
have found that the free world will have been lost by erosion, and perhaps 
not even mihtary erosion."'' 

Others in the defense community also argued that the United States 
should fashion its defense resources to meet all levels of potential enemy 
threats. Although nuclear weapons might form part of a response, 
conventional weapons and forces often were more appropriate. The 

History Project, Princeton University, in Washington, D.C., 11 Jan 1966, pp. 4-5, 52-54; Aliano, 
American Defense Policy, pp. 47-60. 

*CNO, memo for record, ser 000188-58 of 7 Apr 1958. See also OP-93, Itr, ser 0007P93 of 30 
Oct 1957; OP-93, memo, ser 0008P93 of 3 Dec 1957; Itr, CNO to Flag and General Officers, of 22 
Aug 1960, pp. 24-31; Itr, Burke to Stratton, of 14 Sep 1959; memo, OP-61 of SECNAV/CNO, ser 
00195P61 of 8 Jun I960; Anthony E. Sokol, "Sword and Shield in Our Power Structure," USNIP, 
Vol. 85 (Apr 1959), pp. 44-53; Brown Taylor, "The Lesser Deterrent," USNIP, Vol. 85 (Aug 
1959), pp. 33-39; K.W. Simmons, "National Security in the Nuclear Age," USNIP, Vol. 86 Uun 
1960), pp. 83-91; Gordon B. Turner, "Air and Sea Power in Relation to National Power" in Gordon 
B. Turner and Richard D. Challener, eds., National Security in the Nuclear Age: Basic Facts and Theories 
(New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1960), pp. 242-45; Schratz, "The Military Services and the New 
Look," p. 141; Aliano, American Defense Policy, pp. 116-19. 

■'Ltr, Burke to Mountbatten, of 15 May 1958. 

4 United States Naty and Vietnam Conflict 

concept of "flexible response," which gained wide currency following its 
elaboration in General Maxwell D. Taylor's work, The Uncertain Trumpet, 
published in I960, represented the demand for a less restrictive strategy 
than that of assured nuclear retaliation.' 

Naval policymakers had long stressed the multiplicity of the Navy's 
mission and its balanced capabilities. The Navy possessed a capacity for 
general retaliation throughout the 1950s in the form of nuclear armed 
carrier aviation, although the role of the aircraft carrier was seen as 
primarily tactical in nature. The acquisition of Polaris ballistic missile 
firing submarines, the first of which, George Washington (SSBN-598), 
entered the fleet on 30 December 1959, provided the Navy with its only 
major single-purpose strategic weapon system."^ But the Navy also 
maintained a wide variety of conventional warfare weapons and forces, 
from ship and land-based aircraft, surface warships, and submarines, to 
amphibious ships and craft and deployed Marine units. The perceived 
advent of a period of mutual nuclear deterrence between the Soviet Union 
and the United States convinced many theorists that the ability of the 
Navy to deal with situations short of global war would become increasing- 
ly crucial. 

As an alternative to general nuclear war, U.S. strategists developed a 
variety of limited war concepts which reflected the effort to restrict, 
localize, and shorten armed conflicts. This, it was reasoned, would enable 
the United States to combat less than total Communist aggression in such 
areas as Southeast Asia while decreasing the risk of all-out war. And many 
observers, including concerned naval leaders, believed that the most 
probable armed conflicts of the future would take the shape of limited 
objective or "brush-fire" wars.^ 

^The extent of General Taylor's later influence with the Kennedy administration is reflected in the 
fact that he was to serve as Special Military Representative to the President from 1961 to 1962 and as 
Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from 1962 to 1964. Maxwell D. Taylor, The Uncertain Trumpet 
(New York: Harper, 1960); memo, OP-90 to CNO, No. 427-58 of 4 Dec 1958. 

''Lulejian and Associates, Inc., "Refining the Nuclear Attack Capability and Adapting It to a Mission 
(1952-1962)," pt. II of "US Aircraft Carriers in the Strategic Role," of study "History of the Strategic 
Arms Competition 1945-1972," Oct 1975, p. 11-38. 

'OP-93, Itr, ser 0008P93 of 3 Dec 1957; CNO, Annual Report, FY1958, pp. 1-3; Rand 
Corporation, "The Sierra Project: A Study of Limited Wars," Report No. R-317 of May 1958; 
Department of Defense Science Board, Task Group on Limited War, "Final Report," Vol. Ill, 1 Sep 
1958; Arleigh Burke, "The Sea Carries Security on Its Back," Navy ■ Magazine of Sea power. Vol. 1, 
No.l (May 1958), pp. 9-10; Malcolm W. Cagle, "Sea Power and Limited War," USNIP, Vol. 84, No. 
7 Oul 1958), pp. 23-27; George H. Miller, "Not for the Timid," USNIP, Vol. 85, No. 5 (May 
1959), pp. 34-42; "Limited War: Where do they Stand," Army. Navy, Air Force Register, Vol. 80, No. 

The Nary and the Evolution of U.S. Strategy 

o >^ 

2 -£ 









6 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

This new strategic emphasis soon was reflected in the contingency 
planning process. For instance, the basic plan from 1956 to 1958 for the 
defense of South Vietnam against Chinese or North Vietnamese attacks 
was the Commander in Chief, Pacific Operation Plan 46-56, the non- 
nuclear options of which were limited. Admiral Burke and other leaders 
questioned the current dependence on nuclear weapons in active plans. In 
January 1959 he proposed to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) that provision 
be made for major contingencies where conventional forces alone would 
have to be able to accomplish the mission. Gradually a consensus 
developed among the JCS in favor of this recommendation.^ 

Attuned to this new direction in strategic thinking, and indeed a 
persuasive advocate of it, Admiral Harry D. Felt, the Commander in 
Chief, Pacific (CINCPAC), explored changes to the plans relating to his 
theater. In this, he also was influenced by his experiences during the 
Taiwan Strait crisis of 1958, when he became aware of the lack of 
readiness for non-nuclear warfare. Early in 1959 he apprised Admiral 
Burke that "I have in mind the essential requirement for planners to think 
of and for operators to train with non-nuclear weapons.'"' Shortly 
afterward. Admiral Felt directed that all CINCPAC contingency plans to 
be prepared in 1959 provide for initial operations where atomic weapons 
would not be used."^ 

Under these circumstances, it is not surprising that, throughout the 
period, defense analysts and military leaders affirmed that additional 
conventional warfare resources were needed. As Admiral Burke stated in 
early 1959, 

situations requiring quick action and strong, capable forces will proba- 
bly occur in the future. Crises such as Lebanon and Taiwan, occurring 
simultaneously and on opposite sides of the world, severely tax our 

4146 (May 1959), pp. 24-25; CINCPAC, ■CINCPACs Evaluation of Capabilities and Major 
Deficiencies in His Command," (early) 1958; memo, DCNO (Plans and Policy) to ASD (ISA), ser 
00099P60 of 19 Mar 1959. 

''OP-60, briefing memo, No. 490-58 of 5 Jan 1959. See also memo, CNO to JCS, ser 0001P60 of 
Jan 1959; Ronald H. Specter, Ailiice anil Support: The Early Years. 1941-1960 in series United States 
Army in Vietnam (Washington: Center of Military History, U.S. Army, 1983), p. 358. 

'^Ltr, Felt to Burke, of 29 Jan 1959. See also Harry D. Felt, transcript of interview with John T. 
Mason, Jr., U.S. Naval Institute, in Makalapa, HA, Mar 1972, Vol. II, p. 396; NSC, OP-93, memo, 
ser 0007P93 of 30 Oct 1957; Lulejian, "U.S. Aircraft Carriers in the Strategic Role," pt. II, pp. 32- 
33; memo, OP-61 to OP-06, ser 00066P61 of 7 Jul 1959; lir, CINCPACFLT to CINCPAC, ser 34/ 
000322 of 20 Dec 1958. 

'"CINCPAC, Command Histor>', 1959, p. 39. 

The Nary and the Evolution of U.S. Strategy 1 

limited war capabilities. We must have adequate and ready forces, in the 
right place at the right time and in sufficient strength to cope with what 
ever actions are required." 

This was indeed a tall order, because the Navy's worldwide responsibil- 
ities, in addition to the nuclear deterrence role, were many. During this 
period the Soviet-American confrontation required the constant deploy- 
ment of the Sixth Fleet to the Mediterranean and other Atlantic Fleet 
forces throughout that ocean. Support for America's North Atlantic 
Treaty Organization allies, readiness to deter or limit war in the Middle 
East, and hindrance of Communist penetration of African and Latin 
American countries demanded a strong, mobile, and versatile fleet. Crises 
over Berlin, the Congo, and Cuba during this time emphasized that point. 

The Pacific Fleet's mission was equally demanding and included 
readiness to protect vital sea lines of communication, deploy strong naval 
forces near contested areas, and project U.S. power ashore in support of 
allies. The Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet (CINCPACFLT) acted 
under the direction of the Commander in Chief, Pacific, who, although 
traditionally a four-star admiral, was a unified commander exercising 
operational control of Army, Navy, and Air Force components. As the 
naval component, CINCPACFLT commanded the First Fleet in the 
Eastern Pacific and the Seventh Fleet in the Western Pacific. The latter 
naval force secured the waters stretching north to south, from Siberia to 
Australia and, west to east, from the Asian mainland to Hawaii, an area of 
thirty million square miles. This forward fleet was charged with the 
defense of Japan, South Korea, the Republic of China, the Philippines, 
and many of the non-Communist nations of Southeast Asia, in concert with 
their own forces. The Seventh Fleet faced the potentially hostile armed 
forces of the Soviet Union, the People's Republic of China, North Korea, 
and North Vietnam. As an example of its duties. Seventh Fleet units 
during I960 deployed into the Sea of Japan, the Strait of Taiwan, and the 
South China Sea; conducted amphibious and antisubmarine warfare 
exercises with allied navies; carried Indonesian and Malayan troops to the 
Congo; rescued hundreds of aviators and mariners in distress; made an 
average of 300 port calls a month to friendly nations; and transported 
President Eisenhower during his historic visit to the Far East. 

"Memo, Burke to All Flag Officers, of 4 Mar 1959. 

8 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

The organization of the Navy's deployed fleets was well suited to the 
many diverse duties assigned to them. Each of the numbered fleets was 
composed of task forces oriented toward a specific operational function. 
For instance, the Seventh Fleet consisted of the Taiwan Patrol Force (Task 
Force 72), Mobile Logistic Support Force (Task Force 73), Amphibious 
Force (Task Force 76), Attack Carrier Striking Force (Task Force 77), and 
Fleet Marine Force (Task Force 79). These forces were further subdi- 
vided, according to mission requirements, into task groups, task units, and 
task elements. In addition. Commander Seventh Fleet controlled the 
separate antisubmarine Hunter-Killer Group (Task Group 70.4), Mine 
Group (Task Group 70.5), Cruiser-Destroyer Group (Task Group 70.8), 
Submarine Group (Task Group 70.9), and Amphibious Ready Group 
(Task Group 76.5) 

Exclusive of operations, however, the Navy's surface vessel, submarine, 
and aircraft units were the responsibility of distinct "type commands" 
directly subordinated to area fleet commanders. For example. 
Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet controlled a Cruiser-Destroyer 
Force, Naval Air Force, Submarine Force, Amphibious Force, Service 
Force, Mine Force, Fleet Marine Force, and Training Command. These 
commands ensured the personnel, material, and training support of the 
Navy's combat forces. In practice. Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific 
Fleet, through his type commanders, assigned individual units to 
Commander Seventh Fleet or Commander First Fleet for operational 
missions. Still, this flexible and responsive organization, refined during 
World War II and the Korean conflict, required sufficient ships, weapons, 
and naval personnel to make it work. 

Budgetary Constraints and Naval Conventional Forces 

While the Eisenhower administration came to accept many of the 
theoretical assumptions of the flexible response concept, and endorsed a 
strengthening of U.S. non-nuclear weapons and forces, the austere 
defense budgets for the fiscal years from 1957 to 1960 did not generally 
reflect this new emphasis. Defense Department expenditures during these 
years ranged from $38.4 billion to $41.5 billion, and in the last two fiscal 

The Navy and the Evohition of U.S. Strategy 9 

years expenditures remained virtually constant at just over $41 billion.'" 
Almost half of these funds went to the Air Force, whose mission stressed 
the conduct of strategic nuclear warfare with long-range bombers and 
ballistic missiles. The Navy received about one-fourth of the budget and a 
significant percentage of that total went to the new strategic missile 
submarine force." 

The accent on strategic retaliation led to a reduction in the capacity of 
the conventional forces to perform all the roles assigned them in situations 
short of general war. While funds available to the Navy remained at a 
relatively constant level, labor, material, and other costs, especially those 
concerned with ship construction or modernization, rose significantly. 
Aggravating this problem was the fact that the majority of the ships in the 
fleet were of World War II origin, and were beginning to reach 
obsolescence en masse. 

In an effort to improve fleet capabilities, ships incorporating the latest 
technology were designed, built, and introduced to the fleet, or existing 
vessels were converted and modernized. The new additions included 
nuclear-powered ships such as submarines of the Skate (SSN-578), Skipjack 
(SSN-585), Triton (SSN-586), and Halibut (SSGN-587) classes, as well as 
the conventionally powered aircraft carriers Ranger (CVA-61 ) and Indepen- 
dence (CVA-62). Guided missile ships such as Dewey (DLG-7), Preble 
(DLG-15), and submarine Groirler (SSG-577) also entered fleet service 
during this period. Nonetheless, in the fiscal years from 1957 to I960, 
fleet strength was reduced from 409 warships and 558 other combatants 
and auxiliaries to 376 warships and 436 other vessels. In 1959, the 
Secretary of the Navy, William B. Franke, noted that "only the ships at the 
very top of priority lists can be built, converted, or modernized" and that 
the quality of new ships was "excellent, but their number is insufficient to 
meet the replacement problem."'^ 

'^In contrast, in the first Kennedy administration budget, that of Fiscal Year 1962, expenditures 
totalled S46.8 billion. DOD, Annual Report of the Secretary of Defense, ^^1960 (Washington: 
GPO,196l), p. 34. See also "Semiannual Report of the Secretarj' of the Navy" in DOD, Semiannual 
Report of the Secretary' of Defense, 1 Jan to 30 Jun 1957 (Washington: GPO, 1958), p. 172; DOD, 
Semiannual Report of the Secretary of Defense, 1 Jan to 30 Jun 1958 (Washington: GPO, 1959), p. 17; 
DOD, Annual Report of the Secretary of Defense, FY1962 (Washington: GPO, 1963), p. 370. 

"DOD, Annual Report, FY1960, p. 34; Robert F. Futrell, Ideas. Concepts. Doctrine: A History of Basic 
Thinking in the United States Air Force. 1907-1964 (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air Univ., 1971), pp. 317-18, 

'"'"Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Annual Report of the Secretary of Defense. FY 
1959 (Washington: GPO, 1960), pp. 244, 283. See also "Semiannual Report of the Secretary of the 
Navy" in DOD, Semiannual Report, J^n-jun 1957, pp. 197, 231-33, 249; "Semiannual Report of the 

10 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

The overall material condition of the fleet also had progressively 
worsened by the end of the decade. This resulted from the increasing age 
of the ships, heavy operating schedules during periodic international 
crises, and lack of sufficient funds for overhauls and maintenance. In 
1959, 72 percent of the ships inspected by the Board of Inspection and 
Survey were found to be unsatisfactory. Measures were taken to alleviate 
this situation, which included institution of the Material Improvement 
Plan and the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM) program. 
The former procedure gave priority in the allocation of funds to 
improvement of the fleet's striking power and its antisubmarine and 
antiaircraft systems. The FRAM program, introduced in 1959, sought to 
ameliorate the material deterioration of World War II ships, which then 
comprised over 80 percent of the active fleet, through a four-year 
reconditioning and modernization effort. Nonetheless, the following year 
Secretary of the Navy Franke reported that "the present material 
readiness of the Fleet is improved from a year ago but is still marginally 

The fleet's material problems were compounded by the yearly reduc- 
tion in naval personnel. Between 30 June 1957 and 30 June I960, the 
active duty strength of the Navy decreased by over 59,000 personnel, 
from 677,000 to 618,000. During Fiscal Year 1958, cuts in personnel, 
which previously had been absorbed by support activities, began to affect 
the combat forces. The following year, austere personnel allocations 
necessitated a manning level of 81 percent, which the Lebanon and 
Taiwan crises demonstrated was at least 4 percent below that deemed 
necessary for the operation of active ships. At the end of Fiscal Year 1960, 
the Secretary of the Navy cautioned: 

The pressure upon manpower resources continues to grow, and along 
with it the difficulty of meeting, within presently authorized limits, the 
increasing requirements of new ships and weapon programs. Coupled 

Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Semiannual Report, Jan-jun 1958, pp. 240-42; "Annual Report of the 
Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Annual Report, FY1959, pp. 31, 220, 241-42; "Annual Report of the 
Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Annual Report, FY1960, pp. 249, 264-65. 

'^"Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Annual Report, FY1960, pp. 249, 270. 
See also "Semiannual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Semiatinual Report, Jsn-Jun 1957, 
p. 197; "Semiannual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Semiannual Report , ]an-]un 1958, 
pp. 218, 221; "Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Annual Report, FY1959, pp. 
221, 224, 244-45; memo, OP-09D to OP-90, ser 00614-58 of 17 Oct 1958. 

The Navy and the Evolution of U.S. Strategy 11 

with lowered manning levels in shore activities, these demands for naval 
personnel are creating the need for a higher authorized strength, or the 
alternative of further reductions in operating ships and aircraft."^ 

The degradation of the naval conventional warfare capabilities was 
especially pronounced in the amphibious forces. Most amphibious vessels 
in the fleet were of World War II construction, and as a result they 
suffered a high material casualty rate. Lacking the priority status of the 
submarine, air, and most other surface forces, the amphibious arm did not 
always have sufficient funds for proper maintenance and for replacement 
ships and craft. 

The lack of funds especially hampered the development of the 
helicopter, whose potential for amphibious warfare long was recognized 
by officers of the Navy and the Marine Corps. For example, at the end of 
1955 Admiral Burke concluded that "plans must be laid for a gradual 
transition from World War II concepts of landing entirely over the 
beaches to the ultimate goal of landing all the assault elements by 
[helicopter] transport aircraft."'" New ships were needed to test these 
"vertical envelopment" techniques. But, before 1961 only the expedient 
of converting World War II aircraft carriers Princeton (CVS-37) and Boxer 
(CVS-21) and escort carrier Thetis Bay (CVE-90) to amphibious assault 
ships (LPH) enabled realistic exercises. In his final annual report. 
Secretary of the Navy Franke stated that "progress toward a strong 
helicopter-borne assault capability for the Marines continues to be limited 
by a lack of modern, specially configured ships. "'^ 

Resources for the traditional over-the-beach forces were even more 
strained. A small number of landing ships, tank (LST), landing ships, dock 

"""Annual Repon of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Annual Report, Pt'1960, p. 259. See also 
"Semiannual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Semiannual Report, ]an-]\in 1957, pp. 4, 
220; "Semiannual Repon of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Semiannual Report, ]zn-]un 1958, pp. 
7, 226; "Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Annual Report, FY1959, pp. 9, 233. 

'Quoted in Eugene W. Rawlins and William J. Sambito, Marines and Helicopters. 1946-1962 
(Washington: History and Museums Division, Headquarters USMC, 1976), p. 65. 

'*" Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Annual Report, FY1960, p. 242. See also 
"Semiannual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Semiannual Report, ]an-]un 1957, pp. 182, 
234-35; "Semiannual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Semiannual Report, ]2in-]un 1958, 
pp. 217, 223; "Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Annual Report, FY1959, pp. 
219-20, 243, 283; Itr, CINCPACFLT to COMPHIBPAC and CGFMFPAC, ser 34/00419 of 12 May 
1958; Norman Polmar, Aircraft Carriers: A Graphic History of Carrier Aiiation and Its Influence on World 
Events (Garden City, NY: Doubteday and Co., 1969), pp. 609-12; Rawlins and Sambito, Marines and 
Helicopters, pp. 70-81, 87-89; William R. Fails, Marines and Helicopters. 1962-1975 (Washington: 
History and Museums Division, Headquarters USMC, 1978), pp. 21-23. 


United States Naiy and Vietnam Conflict 

-H ^ 










































The Naiy and the Eiohition of U.S. Strategy 13 

(LSD), and other ships and craft entered fleet service in the 1957-1960 
period, but this was more than offset by material deterioration and 
reductions resulting from obsolescence and lack of experienced manpow- 
er. Further, programmed construction of landing craft, mechanized 
(LCM), landing craft, personnel, large (LCPL) and landing craft, vehicle 
and personnel (LCVP), was curtailed in favor of other priority shipbuild- 
ing. In Fiscal Year 1959, the amphibious forces experienced difficulty in 
satisfying all operational requirements, and the following year, Secretary 
of the Navy Franke stated that "high shipbuilding costs and low annual 
replacement programs widen the gap between current modern amphibi- 
ous shipping inventory and the minimum future goal."" 

Another factor contributing to a decline in amphibious warfare 
capability was the continuous reduction of Marine Corps personnel. 
Between June 1956 and June 1959, Marine strength decreased from 
201,000 to 171,000 active duty personnel. The cuts were absorbed, 
during Fiscal Years 1957 and 1958, by units of the Fleet Marine Force, 
and while combat readiness reportedly remained unimpaired, sustained 
combat would have taxed Marine resources. In 1959, however, the 
Secretary of the Navy noted that the continued decrease of Marine 
personnel resulted in 

reduction of some elements of the Fleet Marine Force to cadre status. 
Specifically, six battalion landing teams have been so reduced and 
Marine aviation elements were reduced by the equivalent of six 
squadrons. The net effect of this loss has been to decrease the combat 
effectiveness and staying power of each division and aircraft wing by 
about 20 percent.^" 

Pacific Naval Forces 

The diminished capacity of the Navy's conventional warfare forces for 
conducting limited war was reflected in the status of Pacific naval forces. 
In early 1958, Admiral Felix B. Stump, CINCPAC, expressed his concern 

""Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Annual Report, FY1959, p. 219. See also 
"Semiannual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Semiannual fffpor/, Jan-Jun 1957, p. 235. 

^""Annual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Annual Report, FY1959, p. 227. See also 
"Semiannual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Semiannual Report, Jan-Jun 1957, pp. 4, 
201; "Semiannual Report of the Secretary of the Navy" in DOD, Semiannual Report, }a.n-}\in 1958, pp. 
7, 223; DOD, Annual Report, FY1960, p. 9. 

14 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

over the continued whittling away of U.S. military strength actually in 
place in the Pacific which is gradually reducing the capability of [Pacific 
Command] forces to meet the many emergency situations which may 
arise in limited war as well as the ever present threat of general war and 
which cannot entirely be compensated for by increased numbers of 
atomic weapons."' 

The following year, in June, Admiral Felt, Admiral Stump's successor, 
stated that "the United States has no sustaining power in the Pacific for 
conventional war."^" He noted the fact that his command possessed 
thousands of tons of World War II bombs that could not be effectively 
used with modern aircraft, and had other technical problems with 
antisubmarine torpedoes, depth charges, and low drag bombs. Further- 
more, "replacement ammunition for conventional warfare has been cut 
out of our budgets for several years.""' 

Other naval leaders complained of an inadequate airlift and sealift 
capability, which hampered the mobility of Marine and Army forces and a 
decrease in the number of amphibious craft. The amount of conventional 
weapons and ammunition stored on board fleet carriers increasingly was 
reduced to accommodate nuclear devices. A U.S. government interdepart- 
mental study group determined that, in the Pacific, the American ability to 
respond to conventional aggression was weakest in Southeast Asia, where 
only small stocks of supplies existed, and logistic support facilities, air 
bases, and communications facilities were inadequate for sustained 
operations. Admiral John H. Sides, CINCPACFLT, observed two months 
before President Eisenhower left office that "our limited war capability 
has decreased over the years. "'^"^ 

-'CINCPAC, •CINCPAC's Evaluation of Capabilities," (early) 1958, p. 5. 

^'CNO, memo for record, ser 000300-59 of 29 Jun 1959. 

-'■Ibid. See also memo, OP-90 to CNO, No. 427-58 of 4 Dec 1958. 

^^Ltr, Sides to Burke, of 14 Nov 1960. See also DOD, Science Board, 'Final Report;' CINCPAC, 
"CINCPAC's Evaluation of Capabilities; " President's Science Advisory Committee, "Weapons 
Technology for Limited Warfare;" CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1958, pp. 4, 23, 29-30; 
FY1959, pp. 3, 47; FY1960, pp. 4-5, 19, 24, 48; Itrs, Burke to Villiers, ser 00477P60 of 14 Oct 
1958; Burke to Dowling, ser 004"'8P60 of 14 Oct 1958; CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 45/00426 of 
21 May 1959; CINCPACFLT to Chief, Bureau of Naval Weapons, ser 00754 of 1 Sep 1960; CNO, 
memo for record, ser 000300-59 of 29 Jun 1959; memos, DCNO (Plans and Policy) to ASD (ISA), 
ser 00099P60 of 19 Mar 1959; OP-405 to CNO, ser 005244P40 of 31 Dec 1960; msg, CPFLT 
042155Z Nov 1959. 

The Nary and the Eiohttion of U.S. Strategy 15 

U.S. Policy Toward Southeast Asia 

As strategic thinking underwent a reorientation in the last years of the 
Eisenhower administration, the U.S. perception of the Cold War, and its 
implications for Southeast Asia, was changing as well. Foreign affairs 
observers saw the Communist bloc as embarked on a new, more 
belligerent course of action in the effort to spread its influence to the 
developing nations of the world. Admiral Burke spoke for many in the 
defense and foreign policy establishments when he warned of the 
worldwide, unremitting threat of communism. Addressing the Senate 
Armed Services Committee on 24 January 1959, the CNO warned that 
"Moscow dominated Communism will continue to use political, econom- 
ic, psychological, military and covert elements of Soviet Bloc power to 
achieve its aims" and that "attempts will be made to weaken Free World 
alliances — cause withdrawal of the United States from overseas bases — 
force disarmament agreement on Russian terms — and generally under- 
mine the Free World's will to resist Communist penetration."'' Soon 
afterward, Admiral Burke expressed alarm over the recent advances of the 
Soviet Union under the guidance of Premier Nikita Khrushchev: "He is 
winning. He is getting small nation by small nation under his control, a 
little bit at a time, like Egypt, Syria, and now maybe Iraq. He is working 
on Laos."^^ 

Nowhere was the threat seen as great as in the Western Pacific. 
Following the Taiwan Strait confrontation in 1958, when Communist 
China exhibited great bellicosity, and that nation's involvement in Tibet 
and on the Indian border in 1959, U.S. policymakers anticipated further 
aggressive moves. Their fears were shared by military leaders familiar 
with the situation in Asia. In November 1959 Admiral Herbert G. 
Hopwood, the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, intimated his fears 
for the future to Admiral Burke: 

I believe we are entering a new era of intensified cold and limited war 
in South and South East Asia .... The CHICOMS [previously] 
attempted to win friends and influence the many new and violently 

^'CNO, "Statement before the Senate Armed Services Committee, regarding the Military Posture 
of the United States Navy," of 24 Jan 1959. See also memo, CNO to Frankei, No. 89-59 of 2 Mar 
1959; Naval Long Range Studies Project (Naval War College), "Long Range Estimate of the 
Situation," of 1 Aug 1960. 

^'Memo, Burke to Ward, of 30 May 1959. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 



/ \ ^y-v~-North? 
Burma ^ Vp.^-VietnamL, 

<" ■ '^^Hanoi 

Indian Ocean 

Southeast Asia 

The Nary and the Eiohition of U.S. Strategy 17 

nationalistic governments in this area .... In my opinion, they have 
now decided to use force and/or threat of [force] as a major instrument 
of pohcy for the predictable future." 

Policymakers and intelligence analysts in Washington shared this view. 
The Office of Naval Intelligence warned that "further development of the 
Chinese Communist hard line could lead to new emphasis on the 
development of indigenous Communist guerrilla capabilities in various 
parts of Southeast Asia, and possibly even to limited war adventures by 
Peiping."-'^ Testifying before Congress, Admiral Burke forecast a continu- 
ation of Chinese Communist pressure and their utilization of tested 
methods: "They have made substantial gains in recent years by the use of 
tactics short of open warfare .... They will promote unrest in Burma, 
Laos, and Indonesia."^' 

The North Vietnamese also were seen to be demonstrating a growing 
inclination to use force to settle their dispute with President Ngo Dinh 
Diem's government of South Vietnam. During 1959 evidence increased 
that North Vietnam intended to support armed conflict in the South with 
cadre personnel, arms, and possibly troops. In fact, early in that year the 
Vietnamese Communist hierarchy in Hanoi decided on a change of tactics 
in the South. The Viet Cong were directed to complement their 
subversive efforts against the Diem government with outright military 
attacks. By the end of I960, it was clear that the North Vietnamese were 
resolved to pursue the forceful unification of Vietnam. In December of 
that year the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam (NLF) was 
formed to prosecute the insurgency in the South. The strong influence and 
inspiration of Hanoi in the establishment of this political entity was 
evident to knowledgeable observers.'" 

"Msg, CPFLT 0421 5 5Z Nov 1959. 

^*ONI, "Status of the Cold War in Southeast Asia," ONI Review, Vol. 15, No. 1 Oan I960), pp. 29, 
26-28. See also ONI, "Major Political/Economic Developments in the Sino-Soviet Bloc, 1959," ONI 
Renew, Vol. 15, No. 4 (Apr 1960), pp. 212-13; Itr, Herter to Gates, of 1 Jul I960 in memo, OP-61 to 
CNO, ser 00279P61 of 29 Jul I960. 

^'CNO, "Testimony before Senate Armed Services Committee Regarding the Military Posmre of 
the United States Navy," of 22 Jan 1960. See also JCS Paper 1992/643. 

'"Douglas Pike, Vie! Cong: The Organization and Techniques of the National Liberation Front of South 
Vietnam (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1966), pp. 74, 77-84; Guenter Lewy, America in Vietnam (New 
York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1978), pp. 15-18; King C. Chen, "Hanoi's Three Decisions and the 
Escalation of the Vietnam War," Political Science Quarterly, Vol. 90, No. 2 (Summer 1975); U.S. 
Defense Department, United States-Vietnam Relations: 1945-1967 (Washington: GPO, 1971) (hereaf- 
ter U.S.-V.N. Relations), bk. 2, pt. IVA. 5, tab 3, pp. 55-60; High-Level Military Institute, Socialist 

18 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

The loss of the pro- Western, pro-American South Vietnam to the 
Communists was feared by American poHcymakers as the prelude to the 
inundation of all Southeast Asia. A basic tenet of American foreign policy 
held that the fall of any one Southeast Asian country would trigger the 
collapse of others in the area. It was believed that even a country's limited 
accommodation with the Communists would motivate others in the area to 
discard their anti-Communist positions. The takeover, or even neutraliza- 
tion, of Southeast Asia would in turn, it was feared, affect the credibility of 
U.S. alliances throughout the world. Although emphasizing his particular 
area of concern, Vice Admiral Roland N. Smoot, the Commander U.S. 
Taiwan Defense Command, spoke for many naval leaders when he stated 
that "not one more square inch of ground [should be] lost to the 
Communists by threat of force."" 

But to make the U.S. commitment to pro- Western interests credible in 
the face of a perceived increase in Communist aggressiveness, highly 
visible measures were believed essential. In this vein, CINCPACFLT 
proposed the strengthening and forward deployment of U.S. limited war 

It is obvious that the most important thing we can do for these countries 
during the next few years is to maintain a sufficiently high level of U.S. 
military power in the area as will enable these governments to review 
their foreign policies free of the awful threat of their 'powerful 
neighbor.' Our forces in the South East Asian area today are inade- 
quate .... This is not just a plea for increased Pacific Fleet forces but a 
strong recommendation that there be a marked improvement in the 
overall U.S. capability to fight, and therefore to deter, limited war in 
this area.'^ 

Other Pacific commanders also pressed for the adoption of a forward 
strategy. At a unified commanders conference at Norfolk, Virginia, in 
January I960, Admiral Felt called for an increase in the "United States 

Republic of Vietnam, Vietnam: The Anli-V.S. Resistance ^'ar for National Saltation 1 934-1 9'' ^ Military 
Events (Hanoi: Peoples Army Publishing House, 1980), translated by Foreign Broadcast Information 
Service, 1982, pp. 29-30, 43-44. 

"Commander U.S. Taiwan Defense Command, memo for record, of 29 Dec 1959- See also U. S.- 
V.N, Relations, bk. 10, pp. 1082-83, 1087;JCS Paper 1992/652; Lev/y, America in Vietnam, pp. 15-18; 
Dwight D. Eisenhower, The White House Years: Waging Peace. 1936-1961 (New York: Doubleday and 
Co., 1965), p. 607. 

"Msg, CPFLT 042155Z Nov 1959. See also OP-06, memo for record, of 3 Feb 1959; JCS Paper 

The Navy and the Evolution of U.S. Strategy 


Mainland Southeast Asia 

20 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

forces in the Southeast Asia area — forces ready to act. Forces a long way 
off in the United States do not do any good as far as the Southeast Asians 
are concerned."'^ Admiral Burke shared this perception and advocated 
"reasonably balanced and ready-to-go forces .... Forces in being are 
vital. A small force which can arrive on the scene early, before things get 
out of hand, will be decisive. "''* 

These views reflected similar inclinations among foreign policymakers. 
In July I960, the State Department apprised the Defense Department of 
the type of military forces and strategy required to support U.S. foreign 
policy. Needed was a force possessing mobility, substantial size, and 
flexibility. The first characteristic was essential so that "our allies and the 
Communists will realize that it can respond promptly to threats in any part 
of the world;" substantial size was necessary "so that our allies will 
appreciate our ability to help them meet attacks which might well involve 
the use of sizeable Communist" forces; and flexibility was important in 
order to ' ' respond in each case with a use of force appropriate to the threat 
and so that we can achieve our military objectives with or without use of 
nuclear weapons, as the President may consider desirable." In addition to 
this armed strength so constituted, it was essential "to deploy these forces 
in accordance with a fonvard strategy [original italics], so as to present our 
allies and the Communists with tangible evidence of our capacity to resist 
aggression. "^^ 

During the years 1958 to 1960, U.S. strategic doctrine was in transition 
from emphasis on nuclear retaliation as a response to Communist 
aggression to adoption of a concept of flexible response, which held that 
the nature and seriousness of the threat should determine the solution. 
This ultimately resulted in stress on readiness for fighting limited wars 
with conventional military forces. The Navy, whose forces and weapons 
were suited for a wide range of missions and had traditionally supported a 
multi-role strategy, joined with the Army in pressing for this more 
versatile concept. But, in an era that saw continuing priority given to 
nuclear forces, combined with austere defense budgets, the readiness of 
conventional forces was impaired. 

"As reported in CNO, memo for record, ser 0007-60 of 7 Jan 1960. 

"Ltr, Burke to Campbell, of 29 Jul 1960. 

"Ltr, Herter to Gates, of 1 Jul 1960 in memo, OP-61 to CNO, ser 00279P61 of 29 Jul 1960. 

The Navy and the Evolution of U.S. Strategy 21 

Developments in Asia during the last years of the Eisenhower 
administration gave impetus to the defense establishment's increasing 
interest in the U.S. capability to deter or prosecute limited war. Many 
foreign policymakers became convinced that the Communist bloc, chiefly 
North Vietnam and China, had initiated a new, more aggressive phase in 
the effort to absorb the non-Communist nations of Southeast Asia. In the 
face of this threat, U.S. civilian officials and military leaders pursued a 
policy of uncompromising determination to contain Communist military 
or political incursions. In the former sphere, this represented the use of 
forward deployed, mobile reaction forces. In the latter sphere, the U.S. 
response became one of wholeheartedly supporting anti-Communist 
elements in Southeast Asian countries facing insurgencies. The first 
manifestation of this activist foreign policy in the area occurred in the 
small kingdom of Laos. 


The Laotian Vortex, 1959-1960 

The growing perception that the future would bring more limited armed 
confrontations, such as had occurred during the Lebanon and Quemoy- 
Matsu crises of 1958, was strengthened by the outbreak of violence in 
Laos during the late summer of 1959. This development appeared to U.S. 
national and military leaders to fit the pattern of new Communist-inspired 
aggression. Laos itself was a minor factor in global political and military 
affairs. But the country was strategically located between Asian Commu- 
nist powers and the Western-oriented nations of Southeast Asia. U.S. 
policymakers believed that actions in Laos would ultimately determine the 
course of events throughout the peninsula, since Laos was seen as the 
forward defense line for South Vietnam, as well as for Thailand, in the 
continuing Cold War struggle. 

From the end of the French Indochina War in 1954, and the signing of 
the Geneva Agreement consummating that long and bitter struggle, Laos 
experienced much political instability. The Royal Laotian Government 
received its legitimacy and the country's independence from France. The 
continuity of Western political influence was indicated by the provision in 
the Geneva accord allowing as many as 1,500 French troops to remain in 
Laos to train the Laotian Armed Forces (FAR) at two bases. But, almost 
immediately, the central government's authority was challenged by the 
Pathet Lao, a Communist organization that had fought against the French 
and aligned itself with Ho Chi Minh's Viet Minh. While the government 
exercised its administration in the more populous Mekong River Valley, 
the Communists regrouped in the rural areas of two provinces bordering 
North Vietnam, Phong Saly and Sam Neua, and established a strong 
presence there. 

In November 1957, Prime Minister Souvanna Phouma, in an effort to 
end the festering conflict in Laos, fostered the inclusion of the Pathet Lao, 
under the titular leadership of his half-brother Prince Souphanouvong, in 
a coalition government. This development in Laos alarmed and dismayed 
American policymakers in the Eisenhower administration who sought not 


The Laotian Vortex 23 

only to contain Communist military expansion, but Communist ideology 
as well. Souvanna's action to integrate the Communists into the national 
political structure, while espousing a neutralist stance in foreign affairs, 
was perceived as naive and ultimately fatal. Hence, U.S. representatives 
were directed to oppose the new coalition.' Soon afterwards, elements on 
the right of the Laotian political spectrum, alarmed by the inclusion of 
Communists in the government and in the army, coalesced in opposition. 
Their campaign was encouraged by the Eisenhower administration. The 
U.S. government quickly terminated its financial support to the Laotian 
government, which was heavily dependent on American funding. In 
August 1958, the rightists, spearheaded by a nationalist group led by army 
officer Phoumi Nosavan, replaced Souvanna with Phoui Sanikone, 
damaging the coalition experiment. Phoui's government immediately 
enunciated a policy of opposition to Communist influence in Laos.^ 

In an effort to bolster this new government, the U.S. administration 
greatly increased its economic and military assistance to the mountain 
kingdom. Since 1955 the general U.S. aid program had been administered 
under the U.S. ambassador's direction, with the United States Operations 
Mission handling economic assistance and the Programs Evaluation Office 
(PEO) overseeing the military aspects. Because of the Geneva Agreement 
restrictions against a foreign military presence in Laos (other than the 
French), PEO Laos initially was staffed by civilians. But, beginning in 
1959 the organization contained U.S. military personnel in civilian 

Brigadier General John H. Heintges, USA, the prospective Chief, PEO 
Laos, concluded early in 1959 that the FAR was the only reasonably 
effective and truly anti-Communist arm of the government. But the army 

'JCS Paper 1992/643, p. 1 129; 1992/649; 1992/652; U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 10, p. 1092; Anhur 
J. Dommen, Conflict in Laos: The Politics of Neutralization (New York: Praeger, 1971), pp. 94-111; 
Hugh Toye, Laos: Buffer State or Battleground (New York; Oxford Univ. Press, 1968), pp. 104-16; 
Charles A. Stevenson, The End of Nowhere: American Policy Toward Laos Since 1954 (Boston: Beacon 
Press, 1972), pp. 28-58; Sisouk Na Champassak, Storm Over Laos: A Contemporary History (New York: 
Praeger, 1961), pp. 51-74; Bernard B. Fall, Anatomy of a Crisis: The Laotian Crisis of 1960-1961 
(Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1961), pp. 80-81, 162-72; Martin E. Goldstein, American Policy 
Toward Laos (Cranbury, NJ: Associated University Presses, 1973), pp. 122-41; Bernard B. Fall, "The 
Pathet Lao: A 'Liberation Party'" in Robert A. Scalapino, ed.. The Communist Revolution in Asia: Tactics. 
Goals, and Achievements (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1965), pp. 173-94. 

^CINCPAC, Command History, 1959, pp. 200-06; 1961, pt. 11, pp. 1-12; Fall, Anatomy of a Crisis, 
pp. 82-89; Dommen, Conflict in Laos, pp. 115-16; Stevenson, End of Nowhere, pp. 59-68; Toye, Laos, 
pp. 119-23. 

24 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

then was in poor material condition. The "Heintges Plan," named for its 
principal architect, sought to remedy this problem with a major strength- 
ening and rejuvenation of the FAR. The plan was quickly endorsed by the 
Eisenhower administration and by mid-year significant amounts of weap- 
ons, clothing, communications equipment, ammunition, and other essen- 
tial items were provided through the Military Assistance Program (MAP). 

Of greater significance, U.S. military personnel began supplementing 
the work of the French training mission, which was seen as woefully 
inadequate by American observers. By the end of July 1959, Special 
Forces training teams were established in Laos and prepared to institute 
training in guerrilla warfare techniques and small unit tactics.^ 

In line with the general recommendations of the Heintges Plan and 
earlier country team plans to enhance the fighting capability of the Laotian 
military, measures were taken to improve lines of communication. The 
betterment of airfields and roads, which were militarily vital in a country 
lacking a significant number of either, was considered essential. A 
proposal was made to use U.S. personnel ideally suited to the Laotian 
environment — the Navy's construction battalion (SEABEE) units. 

Since 1955, naval construction forces had operated on the Southeast 
Asian mainland under the Officer in Charge of Construction, Thailand, 
located in Bangkok. And, beginning in February 1956, the U.S. Navy was 
assigned responsibility for all Military Assistance Program construction in 
Southeast Asia by the Assistant Secretary of Defense (International 
Security Affairs). To this was later added control of all military construc- 
tion in the area. However, the Bangkok office conducted no significant 
activities in Laos until early 1957 when engineering and planning 
assistance was provided the Laotians through the PEO. Then, at the end of 
1958, CINCPAC directed his component commanders to provide the 
PEO and the FAR with skilled advisors in order to implement the needed 
construction program. The work to be accomplished included road, 
airfield, and bridge construction and repair, and the erection of two 
sawmills. In February 1959, Chief Warrant Officer T. M. Skates and a 
representative of Commander Naval Construction Forces, Pacific, visited 
Laos to make arrangements for the proposed project. On 14 March, a five- 

'CINCPAC, Command History, 1961, pt. II, pp. 13-14, 18-20; JCS Paper 1992/652; Bernard B. 
Fall, Street Without Joy (Harrisburg, PA: Stackpole Co., 1961), pp. 299-300; "Anti-Communism: The 
Rationale for U.S. Aid" in Marvin Gettleman et at., eds.. Conflict in Indo-China: A Reader on the 
Widening Vi'ar in Laos and Camhodia (New York: Random House, 1970), pp. 172-84. 

The Laotian Vortex 25 

man naval team, led by Skates, deployed to Laos. By then, however, the 
team's mission was reoriented toward more critical equipment repair 

Following completion of their temporary tour of duty in September, the 
small team was relieved by a seventeen-man SEABEE detachment, which 
concentrated its work on air facilities, mainly at Wattay Airfield in 
Vientiane, and on the main roadways. The SEABEEs, although hampered 
by the rainy season and the primitive technological base of the country, 
greatly increased the operational capacity of the Vientiane airfield by 
constructing a new, 6,560-foot runway, taxiways, a drainage system, and a 
runway lighting system. By the end of the year, CINCPAC reported that 
approximately half of the airfield and road improvement project was 

Consideration also was given to providing the Laotians with SEABEE 
assistance in the construction of an all-weather road from Attopeu toward 
the South Vietnamese border at Kontum. The road improvement plan was 
supported wholeheartedly by President Diem of South Vietnam, who felt 
that it was needed to bring some measure of governmental control — both 
Laotian and South Vietnamese — to this area of Communist infiltration 
and subversion of the hill tribes. U.S. military planners also recognized the 
value of this shortest, most direct line of communication to Laos from the 
South China Sea, by way of the Central Highlands of Vietnam. The 
project reflected the growing belief among American officials that U.S. 
assistance to the Royal Laotian Government would increase. However, by 
the end of the year the project was shelved. At first enthusiastic about the 
plan to improve lines of communication on both sides of the border, 
President Diem withdrew his support. In October he expressed the 
opinion that it was already too late to impede Communist infiltration 
through the area. There was lessened U.S. interest, as well. Hence, the 
project did not come to fruition. "^ 

■*Msgs, AMEMB Saigon 7PM 17 Feb 1959; CP 260306Z Aug 1959; 272009Z; USARMVT 
061655Z Sep; CPADMINO 020436Z Oct; JCS 052036Z; 012341Z Dec; CP 052230Z; DIRPAC- 
DOCS 052318Z; CINCPAC, Command History, 1959, pp. 130, 222, 224; 1960, p. 225; Richard 
Tregaskis, Southeast Asia: Building the Bases: The History of Construction in Southeast Asia (Washington: 
Naval Facilities Engineering Command/GPO, 1975), pp. 13-21; Itrs, COMNCFPAC to CINC- 
PACFLT, ser 0031 of 9Jun 1959; ASD (ISA) to Special Assistant for Mutual Security' Coordination, 
Department of State, of 25 Aug 1959; John P. Sylva, transcript of interview with Edward J. Marolda 
and Oscar P. Fitzgerald, Naval Historical Center, in Washington, D.C., 3 Nov 1978. 

26 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

The First Laos Crisis 

In the spring of 1959, growing interna! tension in Laos revolved 
around the government's efforts to eliminate the greater part of the 
Communist military arm in one bold stroke. Government forces surround- 
ed the barracks of two Pathet Lao battalions and demanded their total 
integration into the armed forces of the coalition government. One 
battalion acceded to this pressure on 1 7 May, but the following night the 
other unit escaped and made its way into the jungle along the North 
Vietnamese border. Simultaneously, ten Pathet Lao political leaders, 
including Souphanouvong, the "Red Prince," were quickly arrested and 
imprisoned. The national coalition was thereby ended. Two months to the 
day later, on 18 July 1959, the Pathet Lao retaliated with an attack on a 
government outpost in Sam Neua Province, initiating overt conflict in 
Laos. With the Pathet Lao attacks increasing in intensity and scope during 
July and August, U.S. policymakers became alarmed at the threat to the 
Laotian government. U.S. officials in Washington generally accepted 
Laotian assertions that external Communist powers were fomenting the 
trouble and became concerned that the North Vietnamese soon would 
increase their involvement.^ 

The Pacific Command anticipated the deterioration of the situation in 
Laos and the possible need for an armed U.S. response. CINCPAC 
Operation Plan 32(L)-59, concerning unilateral U.S. military reaction to 
Communist insurgency in the country, was a component part of the still 
incomplete Operation Plan 32-59, which dealt with the overall defense of 
Southeast Asia. Admiral Felt issued the former plan separately on 16 June 
1959 because he was concerned about the situation in Laos.*" 

The Laos plan was designed for U.S. military operations to insure the 
stability and friendly control of Laos in the event it was threatened by 
Communist insurgency.' The concept of operations entailed the rapid 
deployment and securing of air facilities and Mekong River crossings near 

■Msgs, SECSTATE 10PM 7 Aug 1959; AMHMBVT 9PM 22 Aug; Stevenson, End of Nowhere, pp. 
69-71; Fall, Street VCiiboulJoy, pp. 300-02; ¥a.l\. Anatomy of a Crisis, pp. 94-109; A. M. Halpern and H. 
B. Fredman, Communist Strategy in Laos (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corp., I960), pp. v-vii, 147-59. 

"Ltr, Burke to Felt, ser 00301P60 of 1 1 Aug 1959; OP-60, briefing memo, No. 414-59 of 4 Sep 
1959; msg, JCS 051736Z Sep 1959. 

'A U.S. military reaction to an overt Chinese or North Vietnamese invasion was not seriously 
considered in the plan. That contingency was addressed in the parent plan. See OP-60, briefing 
memo, No. 414-59 of 4 Sep 1959. 

The Laotian Vortex 27 

Seno and Vientiane, the administrative capital of Laos, by Joint Task Force 
116. The primary function of this force would be to "free the indigenous 
forces for counterinsurgency operations and to support and assist them in 
these operations as required." In recognition of the preponderant Marine 
contribution. Major General Carson Roberts, USMC, the Commanding 
General, 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, was designated Commander Joint 
Task Force 116. The force consisted of headquarters elements, one 
Marine regimental landing team of three battalions, one Marine aircraft 
group, support units, Army Special Forces and civil affairs teams, and 
elements of a SEABEE battalion.* 

In the first of the plan's several phases, the task force headquarters 
elements, one of three battalion landing teams (BLT), and the support 
units would be airlifted to Vientiane. When this move was completed, the 
second BLT and some SEABEEs would be transported to Seno approxi- 
mately five days later. These forces would be followed by the thirty 
helicopters and thirty-four fixed-wing aircraft of the Marine aircraft group 
and the last BLT. Although Laos is a land-locked country. Admiral Felt 
assigned major Marine formations to the operation. He based his decision 
on the proximity of Marine forces in Okinawa to Southeast Asia and their 
combat readiness, both essential for rapid reaction to fast-developing 
crises, and because the problem in Laos still was regarded as an insurgency 
rather than an overt conventional conflict requiring more heavily armed 
and equipped ground forces.' 

In the wake of these first stages, other forces in the Pacific Command 
would be prepared, if the situation warranted, to deploy in support of 
Joint Task Force 116 or to replace the predominant Marine force. 
Command of the task force would be passed to an Army general once 
forces from that service relieved the Marine contingent. So far as the Navy 
was concerned, the Pacific Fleet was charged with deploying naval combat 
and support forces to Southeast Asia, conducting air support, air and 
sealift operations, and defending sea lines of communication. The fleet 
was specifically directed to provide the Joint Task Force 116 commander, 
once he was ashore, with command and staff personnel, personnel and 
equipment to operate a joint operations center, and naval and support 

'Msg, CP 152347Z Aug 1959; OP-06, memo for record, ser 000157P06 of 24 Aug 1959; OP-60, 
briefing memo, No. 414-59 of 4 Sep; OPNAV, memo for record, of 7 Sep; Spector, Advice and 
Support, pp. 359-60. 

28 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

forces. One of the Navy's nucleus port crews also was responsible for 
communications support and for port operations in Bangkok, prior to 
relief by Army logistic units. 

On 23 June CINCPACFLT issued his supporting plan and distributed it 
to his own component commands. In addition to detailing the Marine 
forces slated for the Laos operations, Admiral Herbert G. Hopwood 
directed that an attack carrier strike group be prepared to operate in the 
South China Sea "to deter overt Communist aggression and. support 
COMJTF 1 16 operations as may be required. "'° In addition to preparing 
contingency instructions, on 15 August CINCPAC gathered the Joint 
Task Force 116 headquarters in Iwakuni, Japan. During the month, 
General Roberts and key members of his staff visited Laos and became 
familiar with the problems there. Admiral Felt reported that "although no 
one deprecates the magnitude of the tasks which may confront us should it 
become necessary to implement CINCPAC OPLAN 32(L)-59, the latter 
is judged to be a feasible plan."" 

CINCPACFLT took other steps, including the postponement on 27 
August of the scheduled departure of Thetis Bay (LPH-6) from the 
Western Pacific for the United States, and, beginning on 1 September, the 
deployment of one carrier task group to the South China Sea and another 
to the Taiwan area. This latter concentration was intended to deter hostile 
Chinese actions while retaining a readiness for general war in the Pacific. 

On 24 August, while these preparations were underway for possible 
U.S. participation, the Secretary of State informed Ambassador Horace 
Smith that the State and Defense Departments decided jointly to support a 
temporary increase in Laotian paramilitary forces in order to restore the 
country's internal security. CINCPAC also was authorized to expedite the 
dispatch to Laos of material and equipment, including small arms, 
clothing, communications apparatus, and engineer items. From U.S. 
facilities throughout the Pacific, including the Naval Supply Depots at 
Yokosuka, Japan, and Guam, the required assistance was sent by air on a 
priority basis. '^ 

Despite these steps, the armed conflict in Laos continued. In the early 
morning hours of 30 August, the Communists launched major, coordinat- 

'"CINCPACFLT OPLAN 32(L)-59 in CINCPACFLT Chief of Staff, memo, of 23 Jun 1959. 
"Msg, CP 260229Z Aug 1959. See also msgs, CP 152347Z; CPFLT 271852Z; 280130Z. 
'^Msgs, AMEMBVT 4PM 24 Aug 1959; SECSTATE 10PM 24 Aug; AMEMBVT 1PM 25 Aug; 
CP 022325Z Sep; CPADMINO 162210Z. 

The Laotian Vortex . 29 

ed attacks on FAR positions in Sam Neua Province, inspiring alarmed 
reports by the government of massive North Vietnamese aggression. 
While U.S. officials generally believed that reports of overt incursion by 
Hanoi's forces were exaggerated, the existence of North Vietnamese 
training, propaganda, material, and other assistance was amply supported. 
An effective Pathet Lao armed force that secured the western flank of 
North Vietnam, stretched U.S. resources, and diverted Western attention 
from South Vietnam was an obvious advantage to Hanoi. Hence, it was in 
the interest of the North Vietnamese to exploit, exacerbate, and sustain 
the growing conflict among Laotian factions, especially since this freed 
their forces for the primary goal — unification with the South. 

The Laotian government, now firmly controlled by anti-Communist 
factions, attempted to bolster its position with outside support. On 3 
September the Royal Laotian Government appealed to the United 
Nations (UN) to dispatch an "emergency force" to Laos, citing the 
intervention of Hanoi as an especially alarming development. This was 
followed by requests for troops and material assistance from the armed 
forces of South Vietnam and Thailand. And, before they were dissuaded 
by U.S. representatives from such action, the Laotians prepared to call for 
Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) intervention. Most impor- 
tantly, however, the Laotian government actively sought an actual and 
open U.S. commitment to the defense of the country.'^ 

Evidence of North Vietnamese intervention was based primarily on 
Laotian reports, although the South Vietnamese provided some support- 
ing intelligence.'^ Based largely on these sources. Ambassador Smith and 
General Heintges were convinced that Laos was in grave jeopardy. 
Ambassador Smith recommended that the North Vietnamese be warned 
against further actions, and if this were disregarded, U.S. forces be 
introduced into Laos. The ambassador expressed his "deepest personal 
conviction that unless we draw line now, we will have to draw it later 
when Laos may be partially or wholly lost along with entire U.S. position 
and prestige in SE Asia if not all Far-East. Like Quemoy or Berlin, I think 

"Msgs, USARMA Laos 030500ZJun 1959; AMEMBVT 2PM 4 Sep; AMEMB Saigon 040025Z; 
AMEMBVT 1PM 5 Sep; Chae-Jin Lee, Communisi China's Policy Toward Laos: A Case Study 1954-67 
(Manhattan, KS: Center for East Asian Studies, Univ. of Kansas, 1970), pp. 55-56. 

'■^Later in the month President Diem informed Admiral Felt that the North Vietnamese had 
introduced armor, artillery, and aircraft into Laos. See Itr, CINCPAC to JCS, ser 00642 of 17 Oct 

30 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

the time is now come when we have to take our stand."'' Admiral Felt 
concurred with Smith's conclusion, stating that "the time for decision and 
action is now, and that the leadership and inspiration of Communist 
aggression in Laos is located outside that country.""^" As the senior military 
officer in the Pacific, Admiral Felt's views on the Southeast Asian problem 
carried great weight, especially before the creation of the U.S. Military 
Assistance Command, Vietnam, in 1962. 

The Chief of Naval Operations subsequently expressed many of these 
same views with regard to the early use of force in situations such as 
existed in Laos. In a letter to Congressman Samuel S. Stratton, Admiral 
Burke stated: 

Threats to our national welfare such as these must be localized and 
stamped out where they occur — that is, far from home .... The 
United States does have the strength and capability to help Laos without 
destroying their country — or their neighbor's country. We have strong 
mobile forces for handling this type of situation .... We have the power 
now [original italics] and stand ready to use it.'" 

The Chief of Naval Operations highlighted the fact that the United States 
Navy was well-suited to implement that policy: 

In these situations we must take advantage of the ocean highways to 
project the force necessary to eliminate the menace wherever it occurs. 
The Navy is more than a "first line" of defense. It frequently is and 
must be the spearhead of our military actions overseas. It is a "first line 
of impact" on many occasions.'** 

The Pacific Command Prepares for Military Action 

Other officials of the Defense and State Departments in Washington 
were convinced that the situation was critical. The attack in Sam Neua 
Province was growing and believed to be supported either by North 
Vietnamese troops or artillery and supplies. At the same time, it was 
recognized that the SEATO powers were either apathetic to the threat or 

''Msg, AMEMBVT No. 518 of 3 Sep from msg, CNO 041449Z Sep 1959. See also msg, CNO 

"'Msg, CP 050232Z Sep 1959. 

'"Ltr, Burke to Stratton, of 14 Sep 1959. 

"*/*;</. See also memo, VCNO to JCS, ser 000387P60 of 16 Oct 1959. 

The Laotian Vortex 31 

inclined to support UN rather than SEATO action. Accordingly, the JCS 
recommended authorizing CINCPAC to alert his forces for possible 
unilateral intervention while the United Nations attempted a negotiated 
solution to the crisis. This step would include the positioning of transport 
aircraft, embarkation of forces on board amphibious craft off Okinawa, 
and sailing of Seventh Fleet elements to the South China Sea. The 
following day, 4 September, President Eisenhower approved the pro- 
posed measures. Late that day CINCPAC issued an alerting directive, 
activated Joint Task Force 116, ordered the assembly of forces, and 
advised CINCPACFLT to stand by for immediate action." 

On 5 September, Admiral Felt took steps to prepare Joint Task Force 
116 and supporting naval forces for deployment to Laos, in accordance 
with the provisions of his Operation Plan 32(L)-59. Marine units began 
embarking at all the designated ports in Okinawa and Japan; over 200 
transport aircraft assembled at their respective airfields; naval amphibious 
ships and Military Sea Transportation Service (MSTS) shipping converged 
on the embarkation areas; and naval forces proceeded to supporting 
positions, all under the cover of routine training exercises and move- 
ments. By 9 September, almost all the ground units slated for amphibious 
lift were embarked. In Buckner Bay, Okinawa, the 2nd Battalion, 3rd 
Marines, a detachment of Marine Observation Squadron 2, and a logistic 
support detachment were in the final stages of loading on board 2 attack 
transports (APA), 2 attack cargo ships (AKA), 2 LSTs, and 1 LSD. Henrico 
(APA-45) was due in at Buckner Bay on 10 September. Thetis Bay, 1 LSD, 
and 2 LSTs had loaded Marine Aircraft Group (MAG) 16 with its thirty 
HU helicopters at Yokosuka, Japan, and were enroute to the Okinawa 
rendezvous with the other groups. At Iwakuni, Marine Air Base Squadron 
12 and Marine Attack Squadron (VMA) 211 were loaded or loading on 
board 2 LSTs and 1 APA; and Corns tock (LSD- 19) was due to arrive there 
on 1 1 September. 

Also by 9 September, combatant ships of the Seventh Fleet were 
deployed to waters adjacent to the critical areas of Southeast Asia, with 
logistic units standing by in support. In the South China Sea between 
Luzon and South Vietnam, a carrier task group composed of Lexington 

"Msgs, COM7FLT 030920Z Sep 1959; CP 042235Z; CPFLT 020144Z; 040055Z; 0501 14Z; 
050135Z; 050520Z; SECSTATE 050550Z 10PM 6 Sep; memos, CNO to ASD (ISA), ser 000486-59 
of 4 Sep; Burke to Twining and Picher, ser 000487-59 of 4 Sep; Arleigh Burke, transcript of 
interview with John T. Mason, Jr., U.S. Naval Institute, in Annapolis, MD, 1963, p. 167. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 








The Laotian Vortex 33 

(CVA-16), Saint Paul (CA-73), with Commander Seventh Fleet em- 
barked, and escorting destroyers prepared to protect the air and sealift 
components of Task Force 1 16. At the same time, another group, formed 
around Shangri La (CVA-38), stood off Taiwan to deter aggressive activity 
by either the Chinese or the North Koreans. Destroyer Division 1 1 
remained close at hand at Subic Bay to sortie into the South China Sea, 
and the oilers and ammunition ships of Task Force 73 were ready to 
provide needed logistic support. And, additional ships were deployed to 
the Western Pacific. Hancock (CVA-19) arrived in the operational area on 
8 September and Toledo (CA-133) joined the assembled naval forces in 
Buckner Bay the following day. Midway (CVA-41) and four logistic 
support ships were all due within days.^° 

Measures also were taken to shorten the time needed to execute the 
Laos operation if the final order to place forces ashore was given. The 
Seventh Fleet commander proposed that when the LSTs finished loading 
at Okinawa they be immediately deployed forward to the Subic-Sangley 
area. Because of their slower speed (between 11 and 17 knots) and the 
distance to Bangkok, this gave the ships a three-day lead over the faster 
transports. CINCPACFLT endorsed this concept on 7 September and 
added to the group Thetis Bay, whose embarked helicopters would overfly 
South Vietnam enroute to Laos.^' 

With the strength of the assembled air, land, and naval forces growing 
daily, commanders gave greater consideration to the ramifications of the 
employment of these forces. Admiral Hopwood expressed dissatisfaction 
with the nature of the fleet's deployment. The admiral stated: "It seems to 
me that by remaining out of sight of land and attempting to disguise our 
intentions is not compatible with our objective of taking effective action to 
support [Royal Laotian Government]." Instead, he proposed an open 
"show of force" in the Fiainan-Paracels area to impress the Chinese and 
"all concerned that we mean business. "^^ CINCPACFLT also proposed, 

^"Msgs, COM7FLT 050620Z Sep 1959; 05O7O2Z; CTF116 050817Z; 050820Z; CPFLT 
051045Z; 052257Z; CP 060055Z; CPFLT 060310Z; CTF76 061115Z; COM7FLT 051400Z; 
061630Z; 070600Z; 071725Z; 080542Z; 090450Z; CPFLT 092300Z; OPNAV, memo for record, 
of 7 Sep; OP-332E2, memo, of 8 Sep 1959; memo, CNO to SECDEF, ser 000490-59 of 8 Sep; 
memo, OP-40 to CNO, ser 0003104P40 of 11 Sep; memo, OP-333D to OP-33, of 15 Sep; Itr, 
COM7FLT to CNO, ser 002-002 of 2 Jan 1960. 

^'Msgs, COM7FLT 051620Z Sep 1959; 0617 16Z; CPFLT 072009Z; 072010Z; COM7FLT 
080216Z; CP 082355Z; OP-332E2, memo, of 8 Sep 1959. 

"Msg, CPFLT 062208Z Sep 1959. 

34 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

should the Laos operation be ordered, a simultaneous feint by a high- 
speed carrier group toward the Chinese coast to divert Communist 
attention from the Task Force 116 airlift. Commander Seventh Fleet, Vice 
Admiral Frederick N. Kivette, however, feared that while the deception 
operation might succeed initially, the airlift would be left dangerously 
exposed without the air support of the carrier group. He felt that "we 
should put nothing less than our maximum effort into protection and 
defense of the landing team air lift."'* Commander Seventh Fleet also 
cautioned that a show of force not be premature. Admiral Kivette 
expressed the 

hope [that] we don't make such a show of forces unless we are awfully 
certain we are going to follow it up if they call our hand. I think timing 
of a show of force is very important. It should not be undertaken [until] 
JTFl 16 is ready to move reasonably quickly if the other side calls our 

Admiral Felt was even more dubious about publicizing the interjection 
of an overwhelming U.S. military presence into the area. He believecl 
that, with a United Nations mediation effort in progress, the time had not 
come for a show of force. In this connection, the admiral stated: 

I have not yet taken full advantage of the authorization [to move large 
naval forces into the South China Sea] and do not intend to until 
situation develops to point where 32L-59 is executed or where it is 
desirable to attain an important effect in the diplomatic play now in 
progress .... [Seventh Fleet] strike elements are in good position. Let 
us not wear them down before their strength is needed .... In my 
opinion, [ Seventh Fleet] strike forces should carry on normal routine 
but continue to keep center of gravity to the southward so as to be ready 
to cover JTF 116 when it puts down in Laos and be fresh enough to 
conduct sustained operations thereafter.'' 

CINCPAC additionally was concerned about the message that a major 
deployment of U.S. forces into Southeast Asia would send to the Chinese 
and North Vietnamese. Felt stated that a show of force to bluff the 
Communists into line "would be interpreted to mean far more than we 

-"Msg, COM7FLT 070638Z Sep 1959. See also msg, CPFLT 060445Z. 
'^Msg, COM7FLT 070820Z Sep 1959. 
-'Msg, CPFLT 08100-4Z Sep 1959. 

The Laotian Vortex 


36 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

intend to do even if we decide to move some military forces into Laos," 
for Operation Plan 32(L)-59 was designed primarily to cope with an 
insurgency. The U.S. forces introduced would be hard pressed to deal 
with more than a counterinsurgency operation. CINCPAC was concerned 
that the commitment of American forces to Laos would precipitate a 
limited war in all Southeast Asia. Admiral Felt concluded his dispatch on a 
cautionary note: Southeast Asia "is tough. I am trying to keep us from 
having the same kind of experience as the French during their catastrophic 
Indo China war when they won many a battle but lost the campaigns."^'' 

Thetis Bay and Diplomatic Efforts to Resolve the Crisis 

As the United States readied its Pacific forces for possible intervention 
in Laos, steps were taken on the diplomatic level to resolve the conflict. 
For the interested powers, the key issue was the nature and degree of 
external support for the Laotian Communists. Although there was 
evidence of North Vietnamese assistance to the Pathet Lao, the Royal 
Laotian Government's claim that the crisis resulted from overt North 
Vietnamese aggression was questioned, especially by America's Western 

Many U.S. civilian officials and military leaders, however, saw the 
conflict in Laos as the most recent manifestation of the Communist bloc's 
design to probe for weak spots in the defenses of the "Free World." 
During a later period of tension in this extended confrontation over Laos, 
Admiral Felt, for example, expressed his conviction that the Pathet Lao 
were "organized, trained, directed and supported by Communist leaders 
in North Vietnam and possibly South China. "^* The commander of U.S. 

'^Ihid. See also msg, CP 130013Z. 

^^CINCPAC, Command History, 1959, pt. II, p. 16. Bernard Fall, who later achieved fame as an 
historian of the decades-long conflict in Southeast Asia, during this time conducted an extensive tour 
of Laotian government outposts on the North Vietnamese and Chinese borders. He concluded that 
the crisis resulted from the collapse of government authority and credibility and that this vacuum was 
filled by the Communists, who exploited the natural antipathy of the hill tribes for the lowland Lao 
people. Dr. Fall doubted that the North Vietnamese were serving in a combat or advisory capacity, 
but he concluded that external Communists were successfully proselytizing the mountain people. See 
msgs, USAIRA Bangkok 1 5 1 605Z Sep 1 959; AMEMB Manila 1 1 AM 8 Sep; USARMVT 09 1 800Z; 
AMEMBVT 081517Z; AMEMB Paris 7PM 9 Sep; USARMA Bangkok 110925Z; AMEMB Pans 
2PM 12 Sep; CPFLT 122245Z; Goldstein, American Policy Toward Laos, pp. 164-71. 

^"CINCPAC, memo, ser 00209 of 25 Apr 1960. See also msg, CPFLT 060445Z Sep 1959. 

The Laotian Vortex 37 

Pacific forces denigrated the view that the Laotian conflict was solely an 
indigenous affair: "The threat is always posed as 'internal' and acceptance 
of this facade contributed to the loss of China to the Free World .... Laos 
today is a distinct military target of the Communist world."'' Admiral 
Burke also evinced little doubt as to the nature of the struggle, noting that 
"the present Laos aggression is but another extension of the Soviet 
Union's continuous peripheral efforts."'" During this same week of crisis, 
the Joint Chiefs of Staff proposed warning the "Soviet Bloc that the price 
for continued intervention in Laos will be higher than they are willing to 

Although members of the U.S. country team in Laos, CINCPAC, and 
Defense and State Department officials in Washington expressed few 
doubts regarding North Vietnamese involvement, there was a lack of 
concrete evidence of organized combat units. Efforts to prod the Laotians 
to obtain conclusive information were unsuccessful, and a proposal by the 
country team to place covert U.S. investigators in the field was declined as 
too great a political risk. For these reasons, a thorough and speedy 
investigation by a UN subcommittee of Laotian allegations of North 
Vietnamese intervention was fully supported by the United States. While 
doubting that the group would turn up much hard evidence, U.S. leaders 
hoped that the UN presence in the combat area would at least deter 
Communist incursions and possibly cause the guerrillas to move into 
North Vietnam. 

Because of the primitive state of the transportation system in Laos, the 
most expeditious method for searching the rugged border areas was by 
air. Accordingly, on 1 1 September CINCPAC alerted CINCPACFLT to 
prepare Thetis Bay for possible support of the UN subcommittee. Admiral 
Hopwood was specifically requested to ready eight of the ship's Marine 
helicopters by painting the craft white and stenciling them with blue UN 
initials. Thetis Bay already was deployed in the South China Sea, but on the 
evening of 13 September her commanding officer. Captain Norman C. 
Gillette, Jr., was directed to proceed to a point out of sight of land off 

^'CINCPAC, memo, ser 00209 of 25 Apr 1960. 

^"Ltr, Burke to Stratton, of 14 Sep 1959. 

"Msg, JCS 111829Z Sep 1959. See also CIA, ■The Situation m Laos," SNIE 68-2-59, of 18 Sep 
1959; Halpern and Fredman, Communist Strateg)' in Laos , pp. 154-55; OP-612, memo for record, of 21 
Aug 1959; msgs, AMEMBVT 0807 15Z; USARMA Bangkok 150905Z; 020850Z Oct; USARMAVT 

38 United States Natj and Vietnam Conflict 

Danang to await further instructions. Soon thereafter, Commander 
Seventh Fleet advised Captain Gillette that clearance for overflight of 
South Vietnam and Thailand, as well as emergency landing at Danang, 
had been granted by the respective governments. The helicopters would 
follow a route over Hue and Quang Tri before landing at Seno for fuel 
prior to continuing on to Vientiane. The subcommittee arrived in 
Vientiane on 1 5 September, but the offer of U.S. air support temporarily 
was declined. 

At the end of the month, the advisability of using U.S. helicopters came 
into question. Secretary of State Christian Herter feared that the 
appearance in Laos of the Marine crews and maintenance personnel for 
the eight helicopters might highlight the U.S. military presence in the 
country to the UN subcommittee. Further, UN Secretary General Dag 
Hammarskjold recommended that the group not use helicopters supplied 
by Security Council members or by states bordering Laos. For lack of 
available aircraft, the subcommittee dropped the idea of a helicopter tour 
and instead conducted it in fixed-wing aircraft, which unfortunately 
restricted on-the-ground inspection to the immediate vicinity of the Sam 
Neua and Luang Prabang airstrips. On 28 September, Ambassador Smith 
suggested that the new situation hardly seemed to warrant the continued 
commitment of Thetis Bay. On 1 October, CINCPACFLT authorized 
Commander Seventh Fleet to relax Thetis Bay's readiness, although the 
ship was to be prepared to respond to a UN request for helicopter support 
on forty-eight hours notice. Thus freed from the necessity to react 
immediately, Thetis Bay sailed for a port call in Hong Kong and then 
proceeded to Subic Bay on 9 October.^^ 

The Seventh Fleet Relaxes Readiness as the Crisis Ebbs 

The constant readiness but actual inaction of Thetis Bay was paralleled 
by the activities of other units of the Seventh Fleet and Joint Task force 
116. On 9 September, Admiral Kivette, apprised by Admiral Hopwood 

'-Msgs, SECSTATE 8PM 4 Sep 1959; CP 090322Z; CPFLT 092038Z; CP 1 101 50Z; COM7FLT 
110612Z; THETIS BAY 120133Z; COM7FLT 130556Z; 131820Z; 140604Z; 160530Z; AM- 
EMBVT 3PM 16 Sep; COM7FLT 190358Z; 200404Z; AMEMB Saigon 1200 23 Sep; CPADMINO 
262228Z; COM7FLT 270546Z; 280153Z; AMEMB Saigon 281000Z; AMEMBVT 1 1AM 30 Sep; 
CPFLT 01 1958Z Oct; COM7FLT 050932Z; 070512Z; 071538Z; 090434Z; 130752Z; memo, OP- 
33D to OP-33, of 15 Sep 1959. 

The Laotian Vortex 39 

that the possibility of initiating Operation Plan 32(L)-59 was somewhat 
diminished, advised his subordinate Seventh Fleet commands that "the 
indefinite waiting and standby period commences." He further directed 
that "during this period it is my desire that operations be reduced to a 
slow pace and that advantage be taken of the lull to improve and increase 
your material readiness .... We may have a long haul ahead of us."^^ 

Seventh Fleet naval forces and the embarked units of Joint Task Force 
116 spent an arduous month at sea during which they evaded fierce Asian 
typhoons. Meanwhile, because of the presence in Laos of the UN 
investigating committee, the Communist threat subsided markedly. Final- 
ly, on 6 October, Admiral Felt authorized a gradual relaxation of 
readiness measures. This included the return to Guam from Okinawa of 
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 5, offloading of equip- 
ment, return to duty of personnel from General Roberts's Joint Task 
Force 116 staff, and preparation for the offloading of Marine helicopter 
squadrons prior to Thetis Bay's return to the United States. On 10 
October, CINCPAC deactivated Joint Task Force 116, released Thetis Bay 
for relief by Kearsarge (CVS-33), and returned the Pacific Command to a 
normal alert condition. ^"^ 

When the UN subcommittee completed its investigation on 12 
October, conclusive evidence of external aggression had not been found. 
For lack of suitable aircraft, the group did not visit the areas of alleged 
aggression nearest the North Vietnamese-Laotian border and the govern- 
ment continued to produce insufficient material verification or prisoners. 
On 7 October, the U.S. country team lamented this fact and, less sure of 
Laotian allegations, stated that it was "imperative obtain best available info 
relative degree [Democratic Republic of Vietnam] participation and or 
support insurgency be it positive or negative [because] info [FAR] has 
obtained poorly documented and impression of exaggeration cannot be 

"Msg, COM7FLT 090900Z Sep 1959. See also msg, COM7FLT 091534Z. 

'"Msgs, COM7FLT 130738Z Sep 1959; CTF116 170544Z; COM7FLT 190848Z; CP 060245Z 
Oct; 102234Z; 102239Z; CPADMINO 262205Z; ADMIN CPFLT 282214Z; COM7FLT LAOS 
OPSUMS 9-34; memo, OP-33D to OP-33, of 15 Sep 1959; Itr, COM7FLT to CNO, ser 002-002 of 2 
Jan 1960. 

'^Msg, USARMAVT 071315Z Oct 1959. Several accounts, such as Fall's Anatomy of a Crisis, pp. 
122-56, and Street Without Joy, pp. 303-05, express doubts that North Vietnamese involvement in the 
fighting was significant. Others, such as Paul F. Langer and Joseph J. Zasloff in North Vietnam and the 
Pathet Lao: Partners in the Struggle for Laos (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1970), pp. 68-69 

40 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

Whether for lack of sustaining power or the presence of the UN 
investigating committee in Laos, the still relatively modest Pathet Lao 
armed forces dispersed into the jungle at the end of 1959. Government 
forces soon filled the vacuum and, by March I960, control was reestabl- 
ished in almost half the districts lost to the Pathet Lao. 

That the leaders of threatened Southeast Asian nations were favorably 
impressed with the U.S. actions in this instance was attested to by 
President Diem's response to the Laos crisis. The Vietnamese leader 
expressed satisfaction with U.S. moves to rush military aid to Laos and to 
alert the Seventh Fleet. Publicized accounts of Admiral Burke's support 
for possible U.S. armed intervention in that country were well received in 
Saigon. Rear Admiral John M. Lee, the Director, Politico-Military Policy 
Division in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, observed that, as 
in the Lebanon and Taiwan Strait confrontations of 1958, U.S. resolve in 
deterring Communist aggression was noted by leaders of threatened 
nations. He stated that "using President Diem's reaction as a barometer of 
SE Asian attitudes, the strong U.S. stand in the Laotian crisis has borne 
fruit in increased U.S. prestige in SE Asia, and a firmer conviction that the 
U.S. can be relied upon."^"" 

Influence of the Laos Crisis on Fleet Readiness 

The fleet's deployment in response to the flare-up of 1959 did much to 
reveal its value as an instrument of U.S. foreign policy, but also its 
deficiencies for supporting a large-scale military conflict in the area. 
Submitting force requirements in early I960 for the fiscal year beginning 
in July 1961, both CINCPACFLT and Commander Seventh Fleet stressed 
the over extension of their resources. They found it possible to maintain 
three aircraft carriers on station in the Western Pacific for certain lengths 
of time, but only with deleterious effects on training, overhaul, and 
deployment schedules and bluejacket morale. In addition, the operational 
flexibility of one of the carriers was constrained by the necessity to remain 

and the U.S. -V.N. Relations, bk. 2, pt. IV. A. 5, tab 3, pp. 60-61, assert that regimental-size units, 
commanded from North Vietnam, took part. 

""Memo, OP-61 to SECNAV, ser 022P61 of 15 Jan 1960. See also msg, USARMAVT 090215Z 
Apr 1960; memo, OP-61 to SECNAV, ser 00549P61 of 29 Dec 1959; OP-92, memo, ser 
001426P92of31 Dec 1959; Stevenson, £W(;//Vott/.)frf, pp. 84-91; Toye, Z.<»w, pp. 131-37; Dommen, 
Conflict in Laos, pp. 124-39; Fall, Anatomy oj a Crisis, pp. 134-83. 

The Laotian Vortex 41 

off the Chinese mainland in readiness for general war retaliation. Admiral 
Kivette, as did Admiral Felt the previous year, concluded that three 
aircraft carriers continuously deployed to the Seventh Fleet was the 
absolute minimum needed for limited war and general war readiness. In 
July I960 the JCS authorized an additional aircraft carrier for the Pacific 
Fleet, thereby enabling the permanent deployment to the Western Pacific 
of three such ships. At the same time, two more patrol squadrons were 
assigned to the naval air component slated to support operations in Laos.'^ 

The most unsettling observations by these fleet commanders concerned 
the Pacific amphibious forces and the Fleet Marine Force. Commander 
Seventh Fleet was responsible for the sealift in some contingencies of a full 
Marine division and its supporting air wing. But, in actuality, only two- 
thirds of the 3rd Marine Division and two-thirds of the 1st Marine Aircraft 
Wing were in being. In addition, these Marine units were seriously 
undermanned and one of the two regimental landing teams (RLT) and 
one of the two Marine aircraft groups were stationed in Hawaii, 4,000 
miles from the Western Pacific. The amphibious shipping in the Western 
Pacific was only capable of transporting the troops and combat-loaded 
cargo of one regimental landing team. Had the Laos deployment entailed 
the sealift from Hawaii of the second RLT and its accompanying MAG, 
Pacific shipping resources would have been strained and the actual 
movement of the force to Southeast Asia would have taken the better part 
of a month. For these reasons. Admiral Hopwood, shortly after the first 
Laos crisis subsided, recommended that additional transports and cargo 
ships be made available in the Western Pacific. 

While Pacific Fleet naval and Marine commanders pressed for the long- 
term personnel and material augmentation and modernization of their 
forces, other interim measures were proposed as well. Admiral Kivette 
urged that the RLT and the MAG in Hawaii be deployed permanently 
with the rest of the 3rd Marine Division and the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing 
on Okinawa. Admiral Hopwood endorsed this recommendation, stressing 
the benefits of concentration and "unit integrity." However, during I960 
the deployment forward to Okinawa of Army units took precedence over 
a move of Marine forces. 

"CINCPAC, Command History, 1960, pp. 7, 36-37, 52-53; msgs, CP 122133Z June I960; 
COM7FLT 01O73OZJul; ADMIN CPFLT 150320Z; 150322Z; 160225Z; COM7FLT 180910Z; 
ADMIN CPFLT 220420Z; 232306Z; CINCPAC, Operation Plan 32-59, of 16 Dec 1959; Change 
No. 3 of 9 Aug 1960, pp. 13-5, C-II-1, C-IIM, F-l-A-1. 

42 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Another proposal made by Commander Seventh Fleet was to establish a 
permanent presence in his volatile area of responsibility of an alert 
amphibious task group. Previously, in response to a crisis, amphibious 
forces often had to be concentrated off Okinawa and Japan from widely 
separated locations throughout the Western Pacific before deploying to 
the trouble spot. But the permanent combination of a combat-ready 
Marine BLT, an assault helicopter squadron, a fast LSD, and a fast AKA to 
carry support personnel, equipment, and supplies, and the versatile LPH, 
would provide Admiral Kivette with an amphibious force prepared for 
immediate commitment. Thetis Bay's potential for fast, decisive action was 
amply demonstrated during the Laos crisis of 1959. 

Admiral Hopwood wholeheartedly supported this proposal and, aware 
of Army intentions to deploy an airborne battle group to Okinawa, 
recommended that the CNO concur "if the Marine Corps is to maintain its 
position as the nations alert force" and to "justify the use of the Marines 
by CINCPAC for the initial phase of any contingency.""^ He added later 
that the 1959 crises in Laos and elsewhere "highlighted the need for 
combat-loaded Marines ready for immediate commitment. A battalion, 
committed initially when needed, may be able to handle a situation which 
would require a regiment or division two or three weeks later."'' 
Accordingly, in July 1960, an Amphibious Ready Group was formed 
under the Seventh Fleet's amphibious task force commander, Rear 
Admiral Charles C. Kirkpatrick. 

In recognition of the fact that the helicopter provided commanders with 
greater operational range, more attention was given to identifying areas 
suitable for helicopter assaults. Of sixteen worldwide geographic areas 
surveyed during Fiscal Years 1958 through I960, as part of the 
Amphibious Objective Studies Program, seven were located on the 
Southeast Asian mainland. Each study provided information pertinent to 
planning operations in an area comprising sixty to eighty miles of coastline 
and thirty to forty miles inland. These studies included identification of 
specific helicopter landing sites. Similar work was conducted in the Gulf of 
Siam by surveying ship Maury (AGS-16) during April and May of I960. 
Captain Roger W. Luther's men produced valuable information on 
navigational aids, tides, and weather in the gulf and surrounding areas.''" 

'*Ur, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 6/00253 of 22 Mar 1960. 
"Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 61/000131 of 29 Apr 1960, pp. VIl-2. 
""Ltrs, CNO to dist. list, ser 000197P60 of 1 Jun 1959; CINCPAC toJCS, ser 000116 of 1 1 Jun 
1959; ACNO (General Planning) to CNO, ser 0070P90 of 10 Aug; CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 33/ 

The Laotian Vortex 43 

Other measures were taken to ready naval forces for anticipated 
Southeast Asian contingencies. On 2 January I960, the Futema Air 
FaciHty was activated on Okinawa as part of a plan to base there eventually 
all Marine helicopter squadrons in the Western Pacific. And a CINCPAC 
study, initiated at the request of Admiral Burke, reaffirmed the great 
strategic value for Southeast Asian operations of the naval air facilities at 
Cubi Point and Sangley Point in the Philippines. This conclusion was 
reiterated by Rear Admiral Robert J. Stroh, of the CINCPAC staff, who 
conducted a tour of Southeast Asia in March. He found, however, that 
several facilities, especially those at Sangley Point, needed an "expensive 
'shot in the arm' if we are going to stay on" there."" These and other 
concerns reflected the continuing focus on Southeast Asia. 

The Mekong River Flotilla 

In early I960, as part of the continuing effort to bolster the Laotian 
armed forces, consideration was given to an increase in the strength of its 
miniscule river flotilla, which then comprised a motley assortment of river 
craft."*^ In January, Admiral Felt recommended that in addition to five 
landing craft, mechanized (LCM) intended for Laos in the Fiscal Year 
I960 MAP budget, another five landing craft, vehicle and personnel 
(LCVP) be provided as military assistance. He proposed delivery of the 
craft via the Mekong River, in July, when snow runoff from the Tibetan 
mountains supplied the high water needed to navigate the waterway. 
CINCPAC further directed that the craft be assembled near Saigon or 
Phnom Penh, Cambodia, by late June. 

This action set in motion urgent efforts to transport the craft to 
Southeast Asia, obtain requisite diplomatic clearances from the mutually 

01977 of 16 Oct; CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 61/00029 of 5 Feb I960; CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 
61/000131 of 29 Apr; Felt to Burke, of 14 May; ACNO (General Planning) to CNO, ser 0060P90 
of 31 Aug; Maury, Survey Report, ser 405 of 14 Jun 1960; Joshua W. Cooper, transcript of interview 
with John T. Mason, Jr., U.S. Naval Institute, in Alexandria, VA, 1973-1974, pp. 434-38; CINCPAC, 
Command History, I960, pp. 23, 51, 256. 

"'■•Memorandum Report by RADM Stroh of SEASIA Planning Trip 1 1-23 March," ser J50073-60 
of 23 Mar 1960 in CINCPAC, Command History, 1960, app. C, p. 255. 

"CINCPAC, Command History, I960, pp. 129-33. 

44 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

suspicious South Vietnamese, Cambodian, and Laotian governments, and 
assemble the U.S. Navy's crewmen for the mission. By early June the U.S. 
officials and military commanders assigned to oversee the mission 
completed the necessary preparations. Commander Clarence W. Wester- 
gaard, of Naval Beach Group 1, assigned to command the Mekong transit 
force, was joined by Lieutenant David Del Giudice and the ten men of his 
Underwater Demolition Team (UDT) 12, Mike Detachment at Yokosu- 
ka, Japan. There, the group reported on board Okanogan (APA-220) to 
prepare for the voyage to Saigon. The twelve officers and men of the 
group were joined by five boatswain's mates and enginemen from the 
ship's crew. The LCMs were tested and minor repairs made at the Ship 
Repair Facility. In the meantime, essential equipment, supplies, and spare 
parts were obtained from the Supply Depot and Naval Beach Group 1 
stores. Finally, on 5 June, the five LCVPs arrived from the United States 
on board SS Oregon Mail and were transferred to Okanogan, where the 
LCMs already were loaded. That same day, the ship got underway for 
Southeast Asia. 

After a week at sea, the attack transport arrived at Saigon for final 
preparations. On 12 June the Mekong Boat Flotilla was activated under 
the operational control of the Chief, Military Assistance Advisory Group 
(MAAG), Vietnam, and the LCMs, with the LCVPs secured on board, 
made ready for the trip upriver. Lieutenant (j.g.) John McAlister of the 
MAAG was attached as a translator and representative of Lieutenant 
General Samuel T. Williams, USA, the Chief, MAAG, Vietnam. The 
flotilla set out at 0700 on 14 June, escorted by Tarn Xet (HQ-331), a 
landing ship, infantry, large (LSIL) of the Vietnamese Navy, and for the 
next two days labored upstream at 7 knots. Experiencing numerous 
mechanical troubles, the flotilla struggled into Phnom Penh at dusk on the 

The sojourn in the Cambodian capital, which was expected to take no 
more than one day, actually lasted until the end of the month. Aside from 
needed repairs, other delays were caused by the refusal of the Cambodian 
pilots to navigate the river too early in the season. Further, Capitaine de 
Fregate Pierre Coedes, French Commandant of the Cambodian Navy, 
would not provide armed escort before his boats performed a ten-day 
reconnaissance of rapids upriver.^^ The Mekong Boat Flotilla finally 

■"French officers staffed che Cambodian Navy, much as they had in South Vietnam until 1955. 

The Laotian Vortex 45 

resumed its passage on 30 June, under the guidance of Capitaine de 
Corvette Serge Dupuis, a French officer and experienced pilot of the 
Mekong. The river force proceeded without incident until reaching the 
treacherous Sambor Rapids on 2 July. At this point, forward progress 
became difficult. The following day, leaving behind the underpowered 
Cambodian LCVP escorts, the flotilla pressed ahead against an 8-knot 
current, at times making less than 1 knot forward. Several boats struck 
submerged obstacles, becoming temporarily hung up, but by 1315 the 
most dangerous section of rapids was traversed. At last, on the 4th of July, 
the Mekong Boat Flotilla crossed the Laotian border at Voun Khom, 
where the U.S. ensigns were ceremoniously hauled down and the boats 
turned over to the Laotians. Having successfully transited 430 miles of 
relatively uncharted, rapid-studded river to accomplish their mission, the 
eighteen officers and men of the flotilla boarded an aircraft at Pakse for 
the return flight to Saigon.'*'' 

The Kong Le Coup and the Outbreak of Civil War 

In early I960, with the military situation stabilized and the government 
increasingly taking on a pro-Western, anti-Communist character, many 
U.S. officials expressed guarded optimism for the future. For example, a 
Defense Department Special Survey Team concluded after their visit to 
Laos that "the results achieved to date in both the political and military 
fields are impressive .... Despite formidable obstacles, this previously 
split country has been to a large degree unified in the Western camp.'"*' 
But, paralleling the consolidation of power by the U.S. -backed political 
element in the population centers was the buildup of the North 
Vietnamese-supported Pathet Lao in the highlands. Hanoi was strengthen- 
ing its Laotian allies for another confrontation with the government. 

''"Ltr, Commander Naval Beach Group 1, WESTPAC Detachment to COM7FLT, ser 034 of 12 Jul 
1960; NA Saigon, report, 150-60 of 16 Aug I960; msgs, CP 162009ZJan 1960; CHPEO Laos 
180330Z Feb; COM7FLT 040257Z May; CHMAAGCAM 041030Z Jun; CP 062245Z; CNO 
081813Z; CPFLT il0230Z; CP 110301Z; CPFLT 120350Z; CHMAAGVN 220533Z; CHMA- 
AGCAM 280230Z; CHMAAGVN 05l401ZJul; ADMIN CPFLT 052144Z; COM7FLT 071052Z; 

■•'"DOD Spec Survey Team Report," of 25 Mar I960, p. 2. See also CINCPAC, Command 
History, 1960, pp. 259-62; JCS Paper 1992/652. 

46 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

On 9 August, Captain Kong Le, a paratroop commander, committed his 
battalion to open revolt against the government. Kong Le's force quickly 
gained control of Vientiane. That same day, the captain issued demands 
that Souvanna Phouma, who headed the government during the short- 
lived coalition in 1957 and 1958, be reinstalled and that Laos henceforth 
adhere to a policy of strict neutrality. On 16 August, the National 
Assembly, having already ended the tenure of the former government, 
voted Souvanna the new prime minister. The establishment of the 
essentially neutralist government brought together various formerly 
antagonistic political groups. However, General Phoumi, the leading 
figure in the staunch anti-Communist, pro-United States faction, who also 
controlled most of the armed forces outside Vientiane, opposed the coup 
from the start. 

While the Eisenhower administration assessed the tangled internal 
situation in Laos to determine the best policy to pursue, the Seventh Fleet 
and its Marine forces continued to prepare for likely contingencies. On 1 1 
August, shortly after the outbreak of the Kong Le coup. Admiral Felt 
authorized Major General Robert B. Luckey, USMC, to assemble Task 
Force 116 staff elements as a precautionary measure. And, on 18 August, 
after the Souvanna government was installed by the Laotian National 
Assembly, Pacific Fleet units deployed to the South China Sea off South 
Vietnam ready "to react swiftly should decision be taken to do so."^'' At 
this time. Admiral Hopwood directed Vice Admiral Charles D. Griffin, 
the new Seventh Fleet commander, to embark Marines in Japan on board 
Lenawee (APA-195) and Thomaston (LSD-28). The ships were then 
ostensibly to proceed to Okinawa for typhoon evasion, but actually to sail 
to Southeast Asian waters. Hornet (CVS-12) and the carrier task group's 
other ships also were ordered south to Buckner Bay in order to load a 
Marine transport helicopter squadron, HMR 162, before continuing on to 
the South China Sea. To provide carrier support, Hancock, in company 
with the other ships of Rear Admiral Francis D. Foley's carrier task group, 
consisting of Destroyer Division 152 and Rogers (DDR-876), was 
deployed from Guam to Subic Bay."*^ For the next three months, the ships 
and men of this Laos contingency force continued to operate in the South 
China Sea or close at hand in Subic Bay and off Taiwan. The force, formed 

"'Msg, ADMINO CP 180514Z Aug 1960. See also CP 102319Z Aug 1960. 

"Msgs, CPFLT 182058Z Aug 1960; 182059Z; 182101Z; 182104Z; 182144Z; COM7FLT 

190518Z; 190726Z. 

The Laotian Vortex Al 

around Hancock, Hornet, and the newly formed Amphibious Ready Group, 
was prepared to respond mihtarily, but its presence was designed 
primarily to deter the Communist powers from exploiting the Kong Le 

U.S. decisionmakers were divided over the optimum course of action in 
Laos. Admiral Felt saw Souvanna as leading a "government which is 
becoming the chosen instrument of Peking, Hanoi and [the Laotian 
Communists]. In my opinion Souvanna Phouma's appeasement policy 
toward the Pathet Lao is bound to fail eventually. Meantime it would 
render the [FAR] incapable of effective anti-Communist action. "^^ But 
Phoumi's weaknesses also were recognized. The general displayed a lack 
of physical courage on occasion, proved less than brilliant in military 
operations, and sometimes showed himself impervious to U.S. advice. As 
Admiral Felt pointed out, "Phoumi is no George Washington. However, 
he is anti-communist which is what counts most in the sad Laos 
situation."'^' Admiral Burke believed "Phoumi is the only man who has 
the guts and willingness to support United States," but he amended this to 
include the Laotian king as well: "There are only two people in all Laos 
who are on our side: The King and Phoumi .... We must support [them] 
with all their faults" although "we must control them as much as we 
can. "5° 

To bring the Souvanna government closer to the Western camp, the 
Eisenhower administration applied pressure by reducing the level of 
economic aid and finally, early in October, suspended all assistance. 
President Eisenhower stated emphatically that "Souvanna had to make up 
his mind between communism and the West. If he was not for us, we 
should support Phoumi."^' 

An important factor in this decision was the perceived need to 
demonstrate to South Vietnam and Thailand the firmness of American 
resolve to halt the drift of Laos and Southeast Asia as a whole to 

"'Msg, CP 180610Z Sep 1960. See also msg, CP 300310Z; OP-60, memo, of 9 Aug 1960. 

"'Msg, CP 022040Z Oct I960. 

^°Msg, CNO 011943Z Oct 1960. Seven years later, Admiral Burke reiterated his conviction that 
"if you want to support a country, you have to support an individual... and you have to accept them 
for what they are." See Arleigh Burke, transcript of interview with Joseph E. O'Connor, John F. 
Kennedy Library, in Washington, D.C., 20 Jan 1967, pp 55-57. 

"As reported in memo, OP-09 to CNO, of 12 Oct 1960. See also msgs, CP 070855Z; 072107Z 
Oct 1960; CNO 072107Z; 072125Z; OP-61, memo, of 9 Aug 1960; Stevenson, End of Nowhere, pp. 
95-114; Dommen, Conflict in Laos, pp. 139-54; Fall, Anatomy of a Crisis, pp. 184-96; Goldstein, 
American Policy Toward Laos, pp. 209-15; Eisenhower, Waging Peace, pp. 607-12. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

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The Laotian Vortex 


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communism or a left-leaning neutralism. There was a particular need to 
reassure South Vietnam's leaders on that score. An indication of the 
importance that U.S. leaders gave to commitments in Southeast Asia was 
the cruise of Saint Paul, flagship of the Seventh Fleet, with Vice Admiral 
Griffin embarked, to friendly nations in the area during October and 
November. As an important part of this Southeast Asian tour. Captain 
Frederick H. Schneider conned his ship up the Saigon River on 24 
October to participate in the South Vietnamese Independence Day 
celebrations to be held on the 26th. Reflecting the great importance 
President Diem attached to the U.S. military presence in that part of Asia, 
the South Vietnamese head of state made an hour-long visit on board Saint 
Paul, which only four months earlier carried the President of the United 
States in his well-publicized Asian tour. Admiral Griffin was impressed 
with the port call to Saigon and subsequently expressed the view that "the 
pro-West regime in South Vietnam is fighting a good and continuous fight 
against Communism, sometimes against heavy odds. This deserves our 

At the same time in Laos, Souvanna Phouma continued to feel pressure 
from the United States. Fie reacted by urgently requesting, and quickly 
receiving, emergency military and economic assistance from the Soviet 
Union, which mounted an airlift into the mountain kingdom by way of 
North Vietnam." 

As a result, at the end of November the U.S. administration agreed to 
support the advance of Phoumi's forces from southern Laos and the 
seizure of Vientiane with material assistance and air transportation by 
Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) piloted aircraft of troops and supplies. 
On 28 November, General Phoumi launched the long awaited offensive. 
Souvanna Phouma declared Vientiane an open city on 9 December and 
fled to Phnom Penh. Soon afterward, the king dissolved the old 
government and installed the Phoumi faction in power under Prime 
Minister Boum Oum. Before the new government could be firmly 
established, however, the last of the opposition forces had to be 
eliminated. Kong Le, who initiated the rebellion in early August, 
continued to hold Vientiane with a force of about 2,000 of his 

"Msg, COM7FLT 200914Z Oct 1960. See also COMCRUDIVONE, report, ser 358 of 31 Oct 
1959; msg, 271220Z Oct 1960; Samt Paul, report, ser 068 of 27 Jun 1960; Itr, CPFLT to CP, ser 32/ 
0259 of 13 Feb 1961. 

»Msgs, SECSTATE 3PM 3 Oct 1960; AMEMBVT 7PM 3 Oct; 1PM 7 Oct; JCS 081653Z. 

50 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

paratroopers. Between 13 and 16 December, before taking the city, 
Phoumi's forces engaged in heavy combat with Kong Le's forces, causing 
great destruction and loss of civilian life.''* 

The Seventh Fleet Prepares for Action 

The fighting in Vientiane, during December 1960, endangered the 
American country team and threatened to instigate Communist counter- 
moves. Hence, CINCPAC, on 14 December, ordered the units designat- 
ed for Joint Task Force 116 into a higher state of readiness. Admiral Felt's 
prior decision to position major fleet units close at hand proved beneficial, 
because delays for deployment were minimal. A carrier task group, under 
the command of Captain Stockton B. Strong and composed of Lexington 
and Destroyer Division 171, already operated off Manila, while the 1st 
Battalion, 7th Marines, embarked in Paul Retere (APA-248) and Monticello 
(LSD-35), remained in Subic Bay. Also in Subic was Rear Admiral John 
W. Byng's antisubmarine Hunter-Killer Group comprising Bennington 
(CVS-20) in an LPH role with HMR 163 embarked. Destroyer Divisions 
212 and 251 escorted the group. 

The Seventh Fleet quickly and efficiently deployed to operational areas 
in the South China Sea fifty to eighty miles off Danang and Phan Thiet. By 
the following day, 15 December, the task force was concentrated in the 
designated areas and awaiting orders to implement CINCPAC Operation 
Plan 32(L)-59. Admiral John H. Sides, only recently placed in command 
of the Pacific Fleet, summarized the accomplishment for Admiral Burke 
and apprised him of the fact that "Navy forces will be in position well 
ahead of others." He added that the "combination of afloat BLT, CVS/ 
LPH, and CVA air cover provides CINCPAC with versatile force whose 
influence can be projected well beyond the coastline of the South China 

'""Stevenson, End of Nowhere, pp. 115-20; Toye, Laoi. pp. 155-60; Dommen, Conflict in Laos, pp. 
161-70; Fall, Anatomy of a Crisis, pp. 197-99; Champassak, Storm Over Laos, pp. 169-70; Earl H. 
Tilford, Jr., "Two Scorpions in a Cup: America and the Soviet Airlift to Laos," Aerospace Historian 
(Fall/Sep 1980), pp. 151-62. 

"Msg, CPFLT 141906Z Dec 1960. See also msgs, COM7FLT 010620Z Dec 1960; 080826Z; CP 
140029Z; CPFLT 140104Z; 140131Z; COM7FLT 140936Z; 140938Z; Itr, COM7FLT to CNO, ser 
002-0027 of 10 Feb 1961. 

The Laotian Vortex 51 

In contrast to the previous crisis, the struggle in Laos during I960 
focused greater attention on the population centers. CINCPAC, in mid- 
October, stated that "we may have to fight our way into the airfields at 
Vientiane and Seno or Pakse in order [to] establish bases for further 
military operations."'*' Since this mission was the primary role of airborne 
units, the Army's 2nd Airborne Battle Group was designated the first 
element to enter Laos, a development that represented the Army's 
growing interest in and capability to provide mobile readiness forces for 
Southeast Asian contingencies. '' 

Preparations also were made to ensure that the fleet would be able to 
conduct aerial reconnaissance and photography of northern Vietnam and 
northern Laos, should U.S. forces be ordered to intervene in Laos. 
Consequently, on 14 December Admiral Griffin ordered a composite 
photographic squadron, VCP 63, to embark three F8U-1P Crusader 
aircraft in Lexington, while three additional F8U-lPs and three A3D-2P 
Skywarriors of VCP 6 1 were directed to form the reserve at Cubi Point in 
the Philippines. Possessing no carrier-based aerial photographic aircraft, 
Commander Seventh Fleet had to bring the planes to the operational area 
from Naval Air Station, Agana, Guam, to Cubi Point. The first three F8U- 
IPs arrived on board Lexington on 17 December.'* 

With the battle for Vientiane reaching a climax. Admiral Felt took 
additional steps to ready his forces. CINCPAC issued an alerting directive 
on 16 December to activate Joint Task Force 116, marshal airlift resources 
of the 3 1 5th Air Division, and begin the cargo loading of the amphibious 
force in Okinawa. Transports Fort Marion (LSD-22) and Magoffin (APA- 
199) were prepared to embark a second BLT at Buckner Bay. Seminole 
(AKA-104) and five LSTs of Task Force 76 already were assembled in 
Buckner Bay or enroute. Support ships Pollux (AKS-4) and Firedrake (AE- 
14) were also advised to anticipate operations in the South China Sea. The 
Seventh Fleet was poised and ready for action.'' 

"^Msg, CP 180305Z Oct 1960. 

"Msgs, CP 180305ZOct 1960;CTF116 \SmOZ;CV UllA-iZ Nov; Specw, Advice and Support, 
pp. 359-60. 

''Msgs, JCS 151455Z Dec 1960; COM7FLT 160048Z;160520Z; 160630Z; CTG77.7 170020Z; 
CG3MARDIV 170800Z; NASCUBIPT 190050Z; CNO 201555Z; COM7FLT 210806Z; VCP61 
210927Z; CPFLT 240254Z. 

"Msgs, CPFLT 170258Z Dec 1960; COM7FLT 160952Z;161422Z; CP 162357Z; COM7FLT 
171502Z; 200204Z; OP-61 Uos Task Force, "U.S. Naval Forces," of 17 Dec 1960; Itr, COM7FLT 
to CNO, ser 002-0027 of 10 Feb 1961. 

52 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

While the fleet assembled, other naval units engaged in special 
operations. At the request of the U.S. Ambassador to Thailand, U. Alexis 
Johnson, surveying ship Maury was directed to provide her one helicopter 
to American representatives in order to evacuate casualties from Vien- 
tiane. Sailing in the Gulf of Siam, Maury immediately dispatched this 
aircraft for the emergency task.*^" 

It also became necessary for seaplane tender Pine Island (AV-12) to 
enter Danang in order to recover a P5M Marlin seaplane, from Patrol 
Squadron (VP) 40, which lost an engine and came down during a routine 
patrol flight. On 20 and 21 December, following diplomatic clearance 
from the South Vietnamese government, the ship accomplished her 
politically sensitive mission. The Peking press used the incident to support 
their contention that the United States had aggressive intentions in South 

While standing by to support a military response, naval forces provided 
other assistance to the U.S. -backed effort in Laos. Following JCS 
directives, the Chief of Naval Operations authorized the transfer of four 
Marine H-34 Seahorse helicopters to the CIA-operated Air America, 
which was aiding General Phoumi with airlift support in Laos. The H-34s 
would replace H-19As, which were unsuitable for operations in the high 
terrain and hot temperatures of northern Laos. On 20 December the 
helicopters were flown from Bennington to Bangkok. By the end of the 
year, maintenance personnel and a mobile training team composed of 
Marine officers and men were preparing to provide Air America 
personnel in Laos with assistance in operating and repairing the aircraft.^^ 

By 22 December, the crisis atmosphere of the previous week was 
dissipated. The invasion of Laos, which U.S. leaders feared because of the 
Russian airlift of arms, ammunition, and supplies, did not occur. On that 
date. Admiral Felt authorized Pacific Fleet forces in readiness for Laos to 
resume normal operations, but to remain in the South China Sea "in 
position to again close the Vietnam coast on short notice."''' This 
relaxation enabled the men of the Amphibious Ready Group and the 

"^"Msgs, Maury 160458Z Dec 1960; CPFLT 161745Z; 161910Z. 

"^'Msgs, COM7FLT 160354Z Dec 1960; 161030Z; AMEMB Saigon 8:32AM 17 Dec; COM7FLT 
2205 18Z. 

"Msgs, COM7FLT 171442Z Dec 1960; CNO 172045Z; CHJUSMAG Bangkok 180800Z; CNO 
192113Z; CHJUSMAG Bangkok 211035Z; COM7FLT 211046Z; CHPEO Uos 250355Z; CP 
290002Z; CTG79.3 291601Z; CGISTMAW 300125Z; MAG16 300240Z. 

"Msg, CP 23035 IZ Dec 1960. See also msg, CP 220530Z Dec 1960. 

The Laotian Vortex 53 

Hunter-Killer Group to spend Christmas in Subic, although all units were 
kept on a four-hour sailing notice. The Lexington, Parsons (DDG-33), and 
Halsey Powell (DD-686) task group was directed to proceed to Hong Kong 
for the holiday and six-day port call. This diminished readiness was 
extended further on 29 December, when Admiral Griffin allowed the 
other group commanders to undertake essential maintenance. Believing 
the Seventh Fleet had experienced one more false alarm, naval 
commanders prepared to "get back to 'business as usual.' "^'' 

The Comniunist New Year Offensive 

At a higher level, military leaders expressed less confidence in late 
I960 that the situation in Laos was stabilized. Phoumi's control of the 
government and the rightist faction was tenuous; and his forces, following 
the heavy fighting for Vientiane and the pursuit of Kong Le, were 
overextended and somewhat disorganized. To concentrate on the storm- 
ing of the capital city, he denuded his garrisons elsewhere in Laos. At the 
same time, Kong Le remained a serious threat to both Vientiane and 
Luang Prabang. The Pathet Lao forces, which had husbanded their 
strength while the other factions engaged in mutual bloodletting, posed an 
even greater danger. Indeed, intelligence indicated that recent Pathet Lao 
directives urged increased attacks on Phoumi's forces. In addition to the 
continuing Soviet airlift, there were reports of stepped-up North Vietnam- 
ese troop movements and logistic activities in the border areas of North 
Vietnam and Laos. The belligerence of the Communist bloc press, and 
North Vietnamese official assertions of their right to intervene in Laos to 
counter the U.S. influence, also boded ill.^' 

Admirals Burke and Felt recognized the dangers of an escalating 
conflict. At one point, the latter officer stated that he was "not unaware of 
the outside possibility that the level of military activity in Laos could be 
raised progressively to a point where U.S. and Sino-Sov Bloc forces might 
become directly involved against each other with all the serious conse- 

"^Msg, COM7FLT 050910Z Jan 1961. See also msgs, COM7FLT 220518Z Dec 1960; 230726Z; 
232326Z; 290720Z; 290746Z; CTF76 291022Z; Itr, COM7FLT to CNO, ser 002-0027 of 10 Feb 

"Msgs, CNO 170021Z Dec 1960; CP 170407Z; 172041Z; 182103Z; OP-60, memo, of 9 Aug 
1960; CNO, memo for record, ser 000737-60 of 10 Dec 1960; U.S.-V.N. Relations, blc. 2, pt. 1V.A.5, 
tab 3, pp. 61-62. 

54 United States Nazy and Vietnam Conflict 

quences this would entail." The commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific 
believed that if the Communists intended a military "showdown," then 
the challenge should be met. However, not knowing what the enemy's 
plans were, the admiral suggested that "we should find out by knocking 
off the present airlift," with the Laotians claiming defense of their 
sovereign air space, to gauge the Communist reaction. Admiral Felt stated 
his "personal opinion ... that the Reds are bluffing as they were in the 
Taiwan Strait affair and will back down if we are firm .... U.S. must draw 
the line in Laos .... We did this in the Taiwan Strait successfully despite 
substantial international and domestic criticism."'"'^ 

While the JCS and State and Defense Department policymakers 
considered such options, the Communists struck. On 29 December, strong 
enemy forces, believed to be North Vietnamese, Pathet Lao, and Kong 
Le's, attacked government-held outposts in the Plain of Jars. By the 31st, 
government forces were ejected from strategic points in the plain. 
CINCPAC, on the day before the new year began, again placed the forces 
designated to implement or support Operation Plan 32(L)-59 in a high 
state of readiness.''^ 

Once more. Seventh Fleet ships steamed toward operating areas in the 
South China Sea in preparation to support U.S. actions in Laos. The 
Lexington and Bennington task groups were fully deployed to their previous 
stations 50 to 100 miles off the central coast of South Vietnam by 2 
January, while Captain Oliver D. Compton's Amphibious Ready Group, 
with the 1st Battalion, 7th Marines embarked in Paul Revere and Monticello, 
proceeded to a position further south off Phan Thiet. In addition. Admiral 
Griffin ordered Coral Sea (CVA-43) and her task group to sea from 
Buckner Bay. Loading of Task Force 76 transports also resumed. Aerial 
photographic aircraft already were embarked in Lexington or on standby at 
Cubi Point. With the officers and men of Joint Task Force 116 and 
supporting Pacific commands thoroughly familiar with their anticipated 
task, U.S. forces were at their highest state of readiness yet for a Laos 
intervention. Commanders awaited the order to act.""* 

'*Msg, CP 282347Z Dec 1960. See also msgs, CP 232339Z Dec 1960; JCS 280226Z; CP 
30013 IZ; memo, OP-61 to CNO, ser 000168P61 of 30 Dec; OP-61, briefing memo, No. 92-60 of 
Dec 1960. 

^'CINCPAC, Command History, 1961, pt. 11, pp. 61-63; Stevenson, End of Nouhere, pp. 125-26. 

"^^Msgs, CNO 182103Z Dec 1960; CP 311436Z; CPFLT 010501Z Jan 1961; COM7FLT 
01 1230Z; 020834Z; JCS 042210Z; COM7FLT 050910Z; CP 062230Z; memo, OP-40 to CNO, ser 
005244P40 of 31 Dec 1960; Robert L. Kerby, "American Military Airlift During the Laotian Civil 

The Laotian Vortex 55 

Admiral Felt now was fully convinced that the time for unilateral U.S. 
intervention had arrived. The scale, coordination, and strength of the 
Communist attack persuaded him that the ultimate goal of the drive, after 
capture of the Plain of Jars, was the conquest of all northern Laos, 
including Vientiane and the royal capital, Luang Prabang. CINCPAC 
stated to the Joint Chiefs of Staff that his Pacific Command forces were 
ready: "With full realization of the seriousness of a decision to intervene, I 
believe strongly that we must intervene now or give up northern Laos.""^' 
The admiral feared that southern Laos would fall soon afterward. That 
area long was viewed by U.S. strategists as the site of last resort in case 
pro-Western forces needed to establish a separate government, as in 
Korea, Germany, and Vietnam. This region also guarded the entrance to 
the lower Mekong River Valley, an important strategic route into the 
heart of mainland Southeast Asia.'" 

In Washington, Admiral Burke shared CINCPAC's estimate of the 
situation. On 31 December, the Chief of Naval Operations presented his 
sobering conclusions to the JCS. He observed that North Vietnamese 
forces "appear to have intervened" and were "capable, with Kong Le and 
Pathet Lao, of defeating Phoumi" even if the latter was provided U.S. 
material assistance. In addition, he warned that the Chinese Communists 
were "capable of invading Laos on short notice in great strength." And if 
this occurred, "they can only be stopped by strong United States forces. 
Stopping them may well require atomic weapons." The admiral enumerat- 
ed other dangers resulting from a military response to the hostilities: 

If DRV is in, it will probably be necessary to reinforce Phoumi .... If 
this happens, the war will probably escalate: more DRV,. ..then Chi- 
coms, then United States and SEATO. It will be like Korea, except it 
will be faster, and it is a worse area for us to fight in.^' 

But he also forecast the results of a U.S. failure to act: "If we lose Laos, we 
will probably lose Thailand and the rest of SE Asia. We will have 
demonstrated to the world that we cannot or will not stand when 
challenged. The effect will quickly show up in Asia, Africa, and Latin 
America. "^^ 

War, 1958-1963," Aerospace Historian, Vol. 24 (Spring 1977), pp. 5-6; Itr, COM7FLT to CNO, ser 
002-0027 of 10 Feb 1961. 

<^'Msg, CP 312235Z Dec 1960. 

'"'Ihid.; msg, CPFLT 020255Z Jan 1961. 

"Msg, CNO 311849Z Dec 1960. 


56 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

Bearing all of these factors in mind, Admiral Burke recommended that 
a decision be made to "hold Laos" and to "take all actions required, 
including if necessary open military support." It was essential to "make 
known United States determination to keep Laos free" through "actions 
as well as by words." ' The admiral implied that it was equally important 
to deter, through a show of strength, further escalation on the part of the 
Communist powers. He recommended a "graduated response" to the 
enemy's initiatives with SEATO intervention, then U.S. air operations, 
and finally U.S. intervention. He cautioned: "Do not escalate the war 
faster than necessary, leave the enemy all possible opportunity to 
disengage. The goal is holding Laos, not conquering DRV or Red 

Also on 31 December, representatives from the State and Defense 
Departments met with the President to determine the U.S. course of 
action in Laos. The participants found that there was "insufficient 
information to form definite opinions as to the existence of overt or covert 
intervention by foreign troops in the Lao situation and the character, 
nature, and extent of such intervention, if it existed.""^ Lacking clear proof 
on this critical point, American leaders deferred a decision on military 
intervention by U.S. or SEATO forces. Although President Eisenhower 
stated that "we had to take all the actions necessary to prevent Communist 
domination of Laos," he approved only limited measures. *" The President 
also directed the preparation of a firm diplomatic statement to apprise the 
Soviet Union of U.S. intent to preserve the Laotian government.^^ 

The employment of South Vietnamese resources also was given 
consideration. The Navy's AD-6 Skyraider aircraft, twelve of which 
already were transferred to South Vietnam in the aid program, were 
offered by the commander of the South Vietnamese Air Force for the 

"/W. See also memo, CNO to JCS, ser 0OO374P60 of 31 Dec 1960; Burke, -'Estimate of 
Situation," of 31 Dec 1960. 

'"Msg, CNO 31 1849Z Dec 1960. See also memo, CNO to JCS, ser 000374P60 of 31 Dec 1960; 
Burke, "Estimate of Situation," of 31 Dec 1960; OP-06, memo, ser BM-5-61 of 5 Jan 1961; OP- 
60S2, "Adm. Burkes Remarks to Plans and Policies Group," of 9Jan 1961. pp. 33-34; memo, OP-61 
to CNO, ser 000318P61 of 29 Jan 1961. 

'^ASD (ISA), memo for the record, of 31 Dec 1960 in OP-60, briefing memo. No. 4-61 of 5 Jan 

''Ibid. See also msgs.JCS 312255Z Dec 1960; CP 060133ZJan 1961; memo, OP-61 to CNO, ser 
000602P61 of 6Jan 1961; msg, COM7FLT 100604ZJan 1961; Stevenson, End of Nou here, pp. 120- 

The Laotian Vortex 57 

conflict in Laos. The conduct of counterguerrilla operations in southern 
Laos by South Vietnamese troops was discussed by U.S., Laotian, and 
South Vietnamese leaders as well. Neither of these proposals, however, 
was implemented.'* 

As happened before, the immediate Communist military threat receded 
almost as quickly as it appeared. After capturing the towns of Nong Het 
and Ban Ban and most of the Plain of Jars by 1 January 1961 , Pathet Lao- 
Kong Le pressure on government forces eased considerably. General 
Heintges believed that external powers were supporting the Laotian 
Communists in their fight, but he also felt that the evidence available to 
him did "not support massive intervention claim."''' Admiral Felt came to 
the same conclusion. On 6 January, he observed that current rumors in the 
press of a Chinese invasion of Laos probably were generated by Phoumi: 

Phoumi is under the political pressure gun and is probably following his 
oft times repeated tactic of manufacturing a [crisis] to gain his ends. It is 
my opinion this is similar to the exaggerated crises concerning Vietnam 
invasion of Laos in Jul and Aug of 1959, the many crises reports Phoumi 
put out during the revolutionary period in Savannakhet and similar 
crises since that time which he has been wont to bring to our attention 
whenever he feels the need for additional support or approval of certain 
actions that he feels we are not in favor of.*° 

Although the extent of North Vietnamese participation in combat 
during the New Year Offensive is unclear, "volunteer Vietnamese 
troops," advisors, and other personnel assisted the combined Pathet Lao- 
Kong Le forces.*' The Pathet Lao-Kong Le forces were bolstered by the 
Soviet airlift of arms, ammunition, and equipment. This support was 
enough to ensure the continued success of the Pathet Lao, while enabling 
the North Vietnamese to concentrate their efforts and forces southward — 
along the soon-to-be famous Ho Chi Minh Trail toward South Vietnam. In 
southern Laos during 1959 and I960, the North Vietnamese and Pathet 
Lao secured corridors through the jungle, and, under the control of 
Group 559, established a sophisticated trail system with way-stations, food 

'^Msg, CP 142055Z Jan 1961; memo, OP-61 to CNO, ser 000610P61 of 16 Jan; memo, OP-61 to 
CNO, ser 0061 5P61 of 23 Jan; msg, CP 290340Z; CNO, memo for record, ser 0154-61 of 6 Mar; 
JCS Paper 1992/906. 

''Msg, CHPEO Uos 040955Z Jan 1961. See also Stevenson, End of Nowhere, pp. 126-28. 

*°Msg, CP 060340Z Jan 1961. 

^'Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Vietnam: The Anti-U.S. Resistance War, p. 47. 

58 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

caches, rest areas, and guides. Further, preinfiltration centers and the 
transportation organizational structure were developed in North Vietnam. 
During the two-year period, over 4,500 personnel, most of whom were 
"regrouped" to the north after the Geneva Agreement, infiltrated back 
into South Vietnam by way of Laos. Once in the South, they waged 
political warfare, as part of the renewed unification campaign, and laid the 
groundwork for later arrivals from North Vietnam. ^^ 

On 6 January 1961, with the battlefield situation once again static, 
CINCPAC relaxed the readiness of the Laos contingency forces. Admiral 
Griffin expressed his satisfaction with the performance of his Seventh 
Fleet when he stated that "as proven twice recently, this ready fleet can 
shift anytime into high gear without a clutch" to counter Communist 

The extended confrontation over Laos did much to alert U.S. naval 
leaders to the special nature of the conflict in Southeast Asia. The fleet was 
used increasingly to counter perceived Communist advances into the area. 
The Navy participated in the Eisenhower administration's program to 
bolster Phoumi's rightist faction with military assistance and task force 
deployments into the South China Sea. Nevertheless, as the military 
fortunes of Phoumi's non-Communist forces waned in the first days of the 
new year, the fleet anticipated continuing employment in support of U.S. 
policy in Southeast Asia. 

*^M. G. Weiner, J. R. Brom, and R. E. Koon, Infiltration of Personnel from North Vietnam: 1939-1967 
(Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corp., 1968), pp. vi, 7, 39, 41, 53; U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 2, pt. 1V.A.5, 
tab 3, pp. 55-60; "Aggression from the North: The Record of North Vietnam's Campaign to Conquer 
South Vietnam," The Department of Stale Bulletin (22 Mar 1965), p. 407; Langer and Zasloff, North 
Vietnam and the Pathet Lao, pp. 71-72, 80, 116, 167-68, 173, 226, 237. 

''Msg, COM7FLT 120804Z Jan 1961. 


Confrontation Over Laos, 

The continuing crisis in Laos during early 1961 appeared no nearer to 
solution than it was in the previous year. Increasingly disenchanted with 
General Phoumi's leadership, U.S. diplomatic officials began to seek 
suitable substitutes from the center of the Laotian political spectrum. This 
reassessment of U.S. policy coincided with the advent of the Kennedy 
administration, which was critical of unsuccessful U.S. actions to establish 
a viable pro-Western government in Laos or to retard the spread of 
Communist influence. The new administration eventually adopted a policy 
toward Laos that was in many ways dissimilar to that of its predecessor. 
Basic to the new concept was an emphasis on bilateral U.S. -Soviet efforts 
to establish Laos as a truly neutral buffer state. But convincing the Soviets 
of the strength of the U.S. position in Laos first required the reestablish- 
ment by the Royal Laotian Government of firm military and political 
control over much of the population. It was recognized that this objective 
could not be attained without a substantial increase in military assistance 
and political support by the United States. But, in contrast with the 
previous emphasis on unilateral actions, the Kennedy administration also 
stressed the importance of cooperation with the SEATO and pro- Western 
Southeast Asian nations.' 

'CNO, memos for record, ser 030-61 of 10 Jan 1961; ser 0050-61 of 24 Jan; ser 00052- 61 of 25 
Jan; msgs, CP 070320ZJan 1961; 092055Z; Stevenson, End of Nowhere, pp. 128-42; ^a\[. Anatomy of a 
Crisis, pp. 159-61; David K. Hall, "The I-aos Crisis, 1960-61" in Alexander L. George, David K. 
Hall, and William E. Simons, The Limits of Coercive Diplomacy: Laos, Cuba, Vietnam (Boston: Little, 
Brown and Co., 1971), pp. 42-51; GoldsK'm, American Policy Toward Laos, pp. 236-44; Toye, Laos, pp. 
166-67; Roger Hilsman, To Move a Nation: The Politics of Foreign Policy in the Administration of John F. 
Kennedy (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1967), pp. 127-33. 


60 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

U.S. Military Assistance to the Laotian Armed Forces and the 

March Alert 

Although the military situation in Laos was static during January and 
February 1961, the respite for government forces was only temporary. 
CINCPAC reported at the beginning of March that the Communist forces 
defending the Plain of Jars were at the receiving end of a constant flow of 
supplies by way of Soviet airlift and road transportation from North 
Vietnam. He added that the "volume of this Commie supply effort 
obviously greater than needed to sustain [Pathet Lao] in defensive 
posture." This conclusion led the commander of U.S. Pacific forces to 
state: "It needs to be repeated again and again that the only way to save 
Laos now is by successful military action."^ 

To consider ways to strengthen the FAR, a meeting was called on 9 
March at the White House, with the President, State and Defense 
Department, CIA, and other administration officials in attendance. 
Admiral Felt also flew in from Hawaii to present his observations in 
person. As if to reinforce the critical nature of the group's task, the Pathet 
Lao opened an attack on 6 March. By the time of the meeting, they had 
thrown Phoumi's forces back from the Plain of Jars in total disarray. At the 
Washington meeting. President Kennedy approved seventeen measures 
of support to improve Phoumi's military position.' 

Of most concern to the Navy was the President's authorization for the 
transfer to the CIA in Laos of sixteen (later reduced to fourteen) Marine 
H-34 helicopters crewed with U.S. military volunteers, half of whom were 
Marines and the other half from the Army and the Navy. This contingent 
would be supported by 300 Marine maintenance personnel to be 
deployed to Thailand. The new Secretary of Defense, Robert S. McNa- 
mara, assigned this task the highest priority and the Navy made urgent 
efforts to comply with the directive. In March 1961, the first increment in 
the helicopter transfer was airlifted from Hawaii to Thailand. On the 18th, 
CINCPAC ordered a further airlift of the 300 maintenance men of 
Marine Air Base Squadron 16 from Futema, Okinawa, to Udorn, 
Thailand. On 22 March, the first elements of the Marine unit arrived at 
their destination and established facilities to support subsequent helicopter 

-Msg, CP 012300Z Mar 1961. See also CNO, memo for record, ser 000122-61 of 24 Feb 1961; 
msg, CP 290340Z Jan 1961. 

'Hall, "The Laos Crisis," pp. 51-58. 

Confrontation Over Laos 61 

operations in Laos. Naval Supply Depot, Yokosuka, Japan, and later the 
naval facility at Oakland, California, were designated as the supply sources 
for spare parts and other necessary aircraft material. Simultaneously, 
Admiral Byng's carrier task group, with Bennington and her two escorts, 
Braine (DD-630) and Cogstrell (DD-651), proceeded to the Gulf of Siam 
for the helicopter transfer. The helicopters were flown off Bennington on 
the 28th. 

Before this additional assistance arrived, however, Phoumi's war effort 
showed further disintegration in the face of renewed Communist attacks.'' 
Late on 19 March, Admiral Felt once again placed Joint Task Force 116 
and its supporting forces in a heightened state of readiness. The following 
day, Major General Donald M. Weller, USMC, received orders to 
assemble his staff in Okinawa and activate the command. As in previous 
alerts, much of the Seventh Fleet was concentrated in the South China Sea. 
These preliminary measures paid off when, late on the 21st, CINCPAC 
ordered a readiness state just short of the condition where intervention 
was deemed imminent. In the next several days, additional ships and men 
of Admiral Griffin's Seventh Fleet converged on this troubled area. Rear 
Admiral Frank B. Miller's Lexington task group headed for a rendezvous 
with Midway and her escorts 200 miles off Danang. Working together, the 
carrier groups formed Task Force 77, under Rear Admiral Miller's 
command, to provide necessary air support for the Laos operation. Other 
air support was provided by shore-based aircraft from Sangley Point in the 
Philippines, which conducted air early warning patrols for the carrier task 
force. VMA 212, which deployed earher to Cubi Point, went to maximum 
alert in preparation for employment from either a carrier or an airfield on 
the Southeast Asian mainland. Commander Seventh Fleet also ordered the 
immediate transfer from Naval Air Station, Atsugi, Japan, to Cubi Point of 
Marine Fighter Squadron (VMF) 312 and VMF 154 with their thirty-four 
F8U-1E Crusader aircraft. 

Additional naval strength was gathered from other reaches of the 
Pacific. One element was the 1st Marine Brigade, which was embarking 
on board Amphibious Squadron 7 ships in Hawaii for scheduled 
participation in Exercise Green Light off the California coast. Admiral 

■"Memos, OP-06, of 10 Mar 1961; Bundy to Brown, of 20 Mar; Laos Task Force to CNO, ser 
00039P33 of 21 Mar; ser 00046P33 of 28 Mar; msgs, CNO 162139Z Mar 1961; CP 171935Z; 
COM7FLT 191430Z; ADMINO CP 242120Z; CNO 040045Z Apr; CPFLT 180316Z; CP 
190003Z; CHJCS 210920Z; Kerby, •■American Military Airlift," p. 6. 

62 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Sides directed Commander First Fleet, Vice Admiral Charles L. Melson, to 
reorient the amphibious squadron toward Okinawa, once the force put to 
sea. The formation departed Hawaii on 22 March. It included elements of 
the 4th Marines and Marine Aircraft Group 13 embarked in 3 APAs, 3 
LSDs, and 1 AKA. This movement of naval forces to Southeast Asia 
reflected the Navy's increased readiness to project forces ashore. It was a 
harbinger of deployments that occurred later in the Vietnam War. 

By 2400 on 24 March, the striking power of the Seventh Fleet was 
concentrated in the South China Sea in readiness for likely contingencies. 
Lexington and her destroyers arrived on station 200 miles east of Danang. 
There they joined Midway and her escorts. Both Lexington and Midway 
carried photographic reconnaissance aircraft. Bennington, doubling as a 
helicopter carrier and an antisubmarine carrier, was enroute to the Gulf of 
Siam. And the Amphibious Ready Group stood by 100 miles south of 
Bangkok, ready to dash in and disembark her Marine BLT. In Buckner 
Bay, the transports and LSTs of Task Force 76 also assembled. Dropping 
anchor on 24 March, Calvert (APA-32) and Vernon County (LST-1161) 
were joined the following day by 2 AKAs, 1 APA, and 1 LSD. Thetis Bay 
also arrived on the 24th to embark combat Marines. In Japan, 5 LSTs, 2 
LSDs, and 1 APA loaded the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines, ammunition, 
and other essential cargo. To supply and refuel this vast assemblage of 
combatant ships. Admiral Griffin dispatched the widely dispersed logistic 
support units of Task Force 73 to the South China Sea and Okinawa. By 
the 24th, 5 oilers, 2 repair ships, 3 stores ships, and 1 ammunition ship 
already serviced the fleet or were enroute to the operational area. The 
fleet and its embarked forces again stood ready to implement national 
policy in Southeast Asia.' 

While U.S. naval, air, and ground forces were stronger and more 
numerous than they were in any previous Laos crisis, the addition of 
SEATO resources also became possible. Following the SEATO Military 
Advisors Fourteenth Conference at Bangkok in March, a great degree of 
cooperation and coordination was achieved. Admiral Felt reported, 
following his attendance at the conference, that "SEATO has stood trial 

'Msgs, CPFLT 170322Z Mar 1961; 210839Z; 212316Z; CNO 220021Z; 220035Z; CPFLT 
220131Z; COMIFLT 222324Z; COM7FLT LAOS SITREPS 1(221412Z)— 5(260806Z); CINC- 
PACFLT SITREPS 10(222247Z)— 13(252 15 IZ); memos, OP-33 (Laos Task Force) to CNO, 
"Laos — What We Are Doing," ser 00043P33 of 25 Mar; Kerby, "American Military Airlift," p. 6. 

Confrontation Over Laos 63 

this week and came through with a meeting of minds. "^ To better control 
the large military contingents preparing to take action in Southeast Asia, 
on 7 April Lieutenant General Paul D. Harkins, USA, the Deputy 
Commander in Chief, U.S. Army Pacific, established an overall headquar- 
ters on Okinawa. Simultaneously, Joint Task Force 116 was deactivated 
and most of its headquarters staff transferred to General Harkins's new 

The Fleet Maintains Readiness 
in the South China Sea 

Although the Kennedy administration was somewhat encouraged by 
the knowledge that allied military unity over Laos was greater than had 
been the case in previous crises, the primary need for a political settlement 
was reaffirmed at a White House meeting on 21 March, at which State and 
Defense Department and CIA representatives were present. U.S. officials 
sought to bring about a conference at Geneva for this purpose, but 
obtaining a ceasefire in Laos was seen as an absolute prerequisite to 
negotiations. To achieve a ceasefire, the Communists would have to be 
convinced of allied determination to defend the existing government. In 
the military sphere, this entailed two efforts: the constant readiness of U.S. 
forces to deploy quickly and in strength to Southeast Asia to back up 
negotiations and the continuation of military aid to Phoumi's forces.** 

In this latter regard, the United States continued to strengthen the 
Laotian armed forces and the transportation system on which they 
depended. For example, at the end of I960 the Officer in Charge of 
Construction, Southeast Asia, in Bangkok, established a resident officer in 

■"Msg, CP 020330Z Apr 1961. See also Dommen, Conflict in Laos, p. 195; Stevenson, End of 
Nowhere, p. 148; Fall, Anatomy of a Crisis, pp. 216-18; Theodore C. Sorensen, Kennedy (New York: 
Harper and Row, 1965), pp. 640-4i; Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., A Thousand Days: John F. Kennedy in 
the White House (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965), pp. 329-34. The Chinese were apprised of this 
determination through the U.S. Embassy in Warsaw. See Lee, Communist China's Policy Toward Laos, p. 

'Msgs, CP 020330Z Apr 1961; 050206Z; 0509 lOZ; memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM000403- 61 of 
8 Apr 1961; CINCPAC, Command History, 1961, pp. 135-37; OP-60, briefing memo. No. 155-61 
of Apr 1961. 

*CNO, memos for record, ser 000182-61 and 000183-61 of 21 Mar 1961; Hall, 'The Laos Crisis," 
pp. 59-68; Stevenson, End of Nowhere, pp. 143-48; Dommen, Conflict in Laos, pp. 187-92. 

64 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Vientiane to oversee contract work in Laos, which until then was troubled 
by inefficiency and some misuse of funds by contractors. Lieutenant John 
P. Sylva (CEC), designated Resident Officer in Charge of Construction, 
Vientiane, spent the first months of 1961 standardizing contract proce- 
dures and monitoring construction of airfields, roads, and barrack 
complexes in the capital and other river valley localities.' 

The second part of the dual politico-military program to deal with the 
Laotian problem concerned the maintenance of U.S. forces in the Western 
Pacific in a high state of readiness. In fact, great emphasis was placed on 
deploying the first increment of the intervention force into Laos within 
forty-eight hours of an order to execute the contingency plan. To 
accomplish this, the command elements, the BLT slated for airlift from 
Okinawa, the air transport units, the afloat BLT in Bennington, and other 
selected Seventh Fleet units were kept in constant alert during late March 
and April. '° 

At the same time, the fleet also conducted other operations. One of 
these was the combined SEATO Exercise Pony Express, which was meant 
to demonstrate to friend and foe alike SEATO's unity and military power 
at a crucial time. This amphibious exercise was conducted on the coast of 
North Borneo at the end of April and early May 1961. The exercise 
included convoy escort, underway replenishment, communications, anti- 
submarine, and antiaircraft warfare training. The participation of over 60 
ships and 26,000 personnel from the combined SEATO nations made it 
the largest alliance maneuver ever held. The U.S. contingent, most of 
which sortied from Manila and Subic Bay on 2 1 April, consisted of the 
Seventh Fleet flagship Saint Paul, Coral Sea, Estes (AGC-12), with 
Commander Task Force 76 embarked, 1 destroyer division, 1 mine 
division, and 2 submarines. In addition, Thetis Bay, Calvert, Catamount 
(LSD-71), Skagit (AKA-105), Magoffin, and Fort Marion carried 2 Marine 
BLTs and HMR 162. Both Admiral Sides, the Pacific Fleet commander, 
and the JCS feared that U.S. participation in Pony Express might divert 
ships and men from the primary Laos readiness mission and suggested its 
postponement. Admiral Felt, however, concluded that the exercise was 

Sylva, interview. 

'"Msg, CP 052048Z Apr 1961; memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM000403-61 of 8 Apr 1961. 

Confrontation Over Laos 



Collection of Captain John P. Sylva 

The Navy's Resident Officer in Charge of Construction, Vientiane. Laos, Lieutenant John 

P. Sylva (CEC), meets with Laotian leader Phoumi Nosavan at Savannakhet airfield early 

in 196L 

too important from many standpoints to defer. Nevertheless, he directed 
CINCPACFLT to load and position his ships during the exercise so they 
could readily support Laos contingencies.'' 

"CINCPAC, Command History, 1961, p. 145; CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1961, p. 24; 
COM7FLT, Command History, 1961, end. 1; Itr, Sides to Burke, of 21 Apr 1961; memo, Laos Task 
Force (OP-33) to CNO, ser 0007 1P33 of 22 Apr 1961; msgs, CPFLT 012158Z Apr 1961; 032334Z; 
060944Z; 070231Z; COM7FLT 130614Z; 200646Z; 270408Z; JCS 272253Z; CNO 020015Z 

66 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

The Laos Crisis Reaches a Chmax 
April-May 1961 

As these military activities continued, the possibiUty of achieving a 
negotiated settlement became increasingly bright in the spring of 1961. In 
April, the United States government acceded to a proposal, put forth by 
Great Britain and the USSR, co-chairmen of the conference on Laos, for a 
fourteen-nation gathering, which again would be held at Geneva.'^ The 
hope was that a neutral Laos would result from these negotiations. 
However, before this process could be set in motion, the ever evasive 
ceasefire had to be obtained and adhered to by the contending forces. 
During March and early April, Communist forces continued to move 
toward the Laotian population centers in the Mekong River Valley, and 
the disintegration of FAR increased with each lost engagement. Once 
again, the Pathet Lao, with the military support and assistance of 
Communist states, appeared to have the ability to utterly rout government 
forces and seize the remainder of Laos. 

Although a ceasefire was scheduled for 24 April, the Communists, 
whose forces were in a militarily favorable position, procrastinated. Faced 
with the rapid deterioration of the FAR's fighting ability and the 
probability that the fall of Luang Prabang, Vientiane, and most of Laos 
was imminent, on the 26th Ambassador Winthrop Brown called for 
drastic action. Specifically, the chief U.S. representative in Laos suggested 
that the SEATO powers prepare to act on a Laotian government request 
for intervention. That same day, an urgent meeting was called at the 
White House to coordinate U.S. moves. Having participated in the 
meeting and come away with the impression that a decision to intervene 
shortly would be given. Admiral Burke advised CINCPACFLT to obtain 
authorization to preposition his fleet and its embarked Marines." 

'^Captain William M. Carpenter from the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, Politico-Military 
Policy Division, was designated to represent the Navy on an informal working group, under 
International Security Affairs Rear Admiral Luther C. Heinz, which was to draft position papers 
relating to the forthcoming conference. The captain subsequently served with the Defense 
Department delegation to the Geneva Conference. Memo, SECNAV to SECDEF, ser 75P61 of 14 
Apr 1961, end. in memo. Deputy ASD (ISA), ser I-3129/6I of 12 Apr 1961; ACNO (Plans and 
Policy), memo, ser 90P61 of 3 May. 

'^CNO, memo for record, ser 000221-61 of21 Apr 1961; OP-61, memo for record, ser 00083P61 
of 24 Apr; CNO, memo for record, ser 00085P33 of 24 Apr; msgs, CNO 262027Z Apr; JCS 

Confrontation Over Laos 



Kearsarge (CVS-33) and her escorts enter Subic Bay in the Philippines in the spring of 
1961 as the Seventh Fleet concentrates to deter Communist advances in Laos. 

Meanwhile, CINCPAC took immediate steps to alert U.S. forces 
designated to execute the operation and to bring them close to the 
Southeast Asian trouble spot. Admiral Felt ordered Lieutenant General 
Harkins to ready essential commands and directed a Marine aircraft group 
and the 2nd Battalion, 3rd Marines to deploy forward to Cubi Point. In 
addition. Admiral Sides ordered Coral Sea and her escorts, which in mid- 
April became the southern CVA group, to a position off Danang. The 
antisubmarine Hunter-Killer Group, formed around Kearsarge, also head- 
ed for the South China Sea from Sasebo, Japan. Thetis Bay, Magoffin, and 
Fort Marion and the embarked 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, which were 

68 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

engaged in the Pony Express exercise off Borneo, steamed to a position 
off South Vietnam's Cape Camau. The Amphibious Ready Group, which 
put in at Subic only the day before, after thirty-seven consecutive days on 
station in the Gulf of Siam, was ordered to weigh anchor and proceed 
again to the gulf. Midivay, on station off Okinawa, headed south in 
company with four destroyers to back up Coral Sea's operations. Finally, 
Lexington, which recently entered drydock at Yokosuka, Japan, for needed 
repairs to one of her screws, was alerted to make ready for departure on 
short notice. In contrast to previous Laos crises, however, the transports 
and cargo ships of the Amphibious Group, Western Pacific were already 
in Southeast Asian waters prepared to execute their sealift mission. 
Commander Task Force 76, Rear Admiral Bernard F. Roeder, in Estej, 
had 1 APA, 1 AKA, 1 LSD, 4 LSTs, and the 1st Battalion, 3rd Marines, 
close at hand off Borneo with another 2 LSDs, 1 APA, and 2 LSTs off 
Okinawa and the Philippines. 

The fleet swiftly deployed to the South China Sea in what by now was a 
well practiced maneuver. The Coral Sea group arrived at the assigned 
station east of Danang on the 28th, and the following day Midivay reached 
her position east of Hainan Island. Because the threat of Soviet or Chinese 
Communist intervention was perceived as much greater in this latest 
confrontation over Laos, additional measures were taken to protect U.S. 
forces. Kearsarge, due to arrive on the 30th, was directed to provide 
antisubmarine defense on an alternating basis for each attack carrier 
group. Commander Seventh Fleet also ordered air patrol squadrons from 
the Philippines, Okinawa, and Japan to give antisubmarine cover over the 
CVAs operating in the South China Sea, the Taiwan Strait area, and the 
Lexington group, respectively. Air Early Warning Squadron I provided 
early warning support for the carriers. Admiral Griffin also dispatched 
three destroyers or destroyer escorts to each antisubmarine carrier group, 
and deployed two attack submarines off Subic Bay. After the great 
urgency felt on the 26th lessened somewhat, Thetis Bay, Magoffin, and Fort 
Marion returned to Borneo to continue participation in Pony Express, but 
prepared to respond on short notice. Paul Revere and Monticello, however, 
departed Subic enroute to their old operating area off Bangkok. By 28 
April, additional steps were taken to augment the strength of the Laos 
contingency force. CINCPACFLT ordered Bon Homme Richard (CVA-31) 
to sail for the Western Pacific after departing Pearl Harbor on 2 May. 

Confrontation Over Laos 69 

Renville (APA-227), transporting the Isi Battalion, 5th Marines, had 
orders to make for Okinawa. 

By the end of April, the major part of the Seventh Fleet was deployed 
to Southeast Asian waters prepared to support the projection of U.S. 
power onto the Indochinese peninsula. Sailing with the fleet were three 
Marine BLTs. Another two battalions were available on Okinawa for 
airlift, and a sixth waited in readiness at Cubi Point. These units were 
reinforced by the battalion arriving at Okinawa in Renville. At the same 
time, the helicopter and fixed-wing aircraft of the 1st Marine Aircraft 
Wing were available to support the ground troops.''' 

Decision Against Intervention 

Despite the initial inclination of U.S. decisionmakers on 26 April to 
intervene in Laos, this course of action soon was rejected. Throughout the 
following day, the President met with officials of the National Security 
Council, members of Congress, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Many of 
these leaders felt it probable that the Chinese Communists would 
intervene to counter a similar U.S. or SEATO move and they did not rule 
out Soviet involvement. The Army Chief of Staff, General George H. 
Decker, USA, and the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General David 
M. Shoup, USMC, were especially opposed to American ground opera- 
tions in the heart of the Southeast Asian mainland. These military officers 
recognized that U.S. strength might be inadequate to sustain a campaign 
in Laos. In the crucial first three days of any operation to secure Vientiane, 
U.S. airlift resources and Laotian airfield capacity would limit the number 
of troops transported to 1 ,000 each day. This figure was believed too low 
to assure a successful defense of the capital. In addition, it already was 
determined that of the 3,279 short tons of cargo required during the first 
five days of a Laotian operation, only 1,766 short tons could be 
transported. During the next five days, the requirement would be 1,053 
short tons, but there would only be the capability to airlift 778 short tons. 
Secretary of Defense McNamara, as reported by the CNO, also was 
persuaded that "it may be too late to intervene in Laos. ..that if we put 

'"Msgs, COM7FLT 270142Z Apr 1961; CPFLT 271141Z; COM7FLT 271330Z; 280214Z; 
280700Z; 280926Z; 280928Z; CPFLT 290426Z; COM7FLT 290850Z; 291418Z; OP-33, memo 
for record, ser 00094P33 of 29 Apr 1961; Kerby, "American Military Airlift," pp. 6-7. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 


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Confrontation Over Laos 71 

troops in Vientiane, they could be driven out."" The members of 
Congress briefed on the situation in Laos, including Senators Mike J. 
Mansfield, Hubert H. Humphrey, Richard B. Russell, Everett M. 
Dirksen, Carl Vinson, and Styles Bridges and Representative Sam 
Rayburn were unanimously opposed to intervention in Laos. The 
overriding conclusion drawn by the assembled leaders was that Laos was 
"a terrible place to fight a war.""^ 

Of the national leaders present, only Admiral Burke spoke forcefully in 
favor of a U.S. military stand in Laos.'^ The CNO stated that a failure to 
act in Laos would result in the eventual, if not immediate, loss of Southeast 

If the Thais and Vietnamese who were fighting against Communism 
would come to believe that the United States would not really support 
them when it came to a showdown, they would then try to accommodate 
themselves eventually. Communism because they would not have 
confidence in the United States coming to their aid if they needed it.'* 

Further, the physical control by a friendly regime of southern Laos would 
enable the North Vietnamese to markedly increase their support of the 
war in South Vietnam. The admiral observed that "if Laos were 
Communist, South Vietnam would. ..have a long border against a Commu- 
nist nation. This border is a junction border which could not be patrolled 
and which could not be guarded even to the extent of preventing a minor 
degree of infiltration of people across borders to South Vietnam." The 
Chief of Naval Operations strongly recommended that "regardless of the 
difficulties of fighting in Laos, regardless of the possibility of escalation of 
the war, regardless of the possible need to use nuclear weapons 
eventually, and regardless of all of these things we should try to hold the 

■'CNO, memo for record, ser 000231-61 of 27 Apr 1961. 

'^Admiral Burke has stated that Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson expressed some agreement with 
the CNO's views. See Arleigh Burke, transcript of interview with Joseph E. O'Connor, John F. 
Kennedy Library, in Cambridge, MA. 

'^CNO, memo for record, ser 000231-61 of 27 Apr 1961. See also OP-33, memo for record, ser 
00090P33 of 27 Apr 1961; Burke/Ward, transcript of conversation, of 5 May 1961; CINCPAC, 
Command History, 1961, p. 70; Burke, transcript of conversation with Bob Donovan, New York 
Herald Trihutie, of 7 Jul 1961; Burke, transcript of conversation with Hanson Baldwin, New York 
Times, o( 27 ]un 1961; Itr, Burke to Griffin, of 27 Jul 1961; memo, OP-40 to OP-60, ser BM00094- 
61 of 25 Apr 1961; Itr, CINCPACFLT to CINCPAC, ser 41/000146 of 30 May 1961; Hall, '■The 
Laos Crisis," pp. 68-70. 

72 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

significant part of Laos, including Vientiane." The admiral concluded by 
asking, "if we do not fight in Laos, will we fight in Thailand where the 
situation will be the same sometime in the future as it is now in Laos? Will 
we fight in Vietnam? Where will we fight? Where do we hold? Where do 
we draw the line?"" 

Although Admiral Burke's views did not prevail, there appeared to be 
general agreement that the introduction of U.S. forces into South Vietnam 
or Thailand, if their fall loomed, should be accomplished. Admiral Burke 
drew two conclusions from the deliberations on 21 April; first, that airlift 
and airborne operations could not be conducted or supported in enough 
strength to ensure success in the crucial first stages of a landing; and 
second, that Laos, unlike South Vietnam and Thailand, "could not be 
defended and would go down the drain because it didn't have a sea 

While President Kennedy deferred for twenty-four hours a plan of 
action regarding Laos, the decision not to intervene had, in effect, been 
made. The CNO informed Admiral Felt that "after a series of meetings 
today, I am fearful that we may not execute." Planning now was focused 
on aiding other Southeast Asian nations which had direct access to the sea. 
Admiral Burke advised CINCPAC that "we may land about 5,000 
Marines in Vietnam and an equal number of Army and Air Force troops in 
Thailand. "2' 

Despite the general perception that the odds now were against saving 
Laos from a Communist takeover, the National Security Council contin- 
ued to explore various solutions to the problem in that country, if only to 
forestall the direct threat to South Vietnam and Thailand. By early May, 
hopes were pinned on the success of United Nations and SEATO 
diplomatic initiatives. But, military options continued to be considered by 
President Kennedy, including the possible landing of a U.S. force in 
Thailand in an effort to hasten Communist acceptance of a ceasefire. On 1 
May the chief executive, through Secretary of Defense McNamara, 
specifically queried Admiral Burke as to the readiness of the BLT afloat 
off Bangkok. The admiral responded that the battalion and the ships in 
which it was embarked were ready and waiting twelve-hours steaming 
time from the Thai capital. Due to the fear that an overt demonstration by 

"CNO, memo for record, ser 000231-61 of 21 Apr 1961. 

^'Msg, CNO 280133Z Apr 1961. See also msg, CNO 271905Z Apr 1961. 

Confrontation Oier Laos 73 

the United States would upset the ceasefire negotiations, however, this 
military measure was not undertaken."^ 

Ceasefire in Laos 

Although the Pathet Lao continued to engage in sporadic attacks in the 
first days of May, and seized the strategically important town of Tchepone 
near the South Vietnamese border, the military pressure on Vientiane, 
Luang Prabang, and the other major population centers eased. The 
reasons for this development were many. While the Kennedy administra- 
tion decided against intervention in Laos and deferred possible landings in 
South Vietnam and Thailand, the Communists had reason to fear these 
initiatives. The resolve of SEATO member nations was demonstrated by 
the well-publicized Pony Express exercise, which was the largest com- 
bined SEATO maneuver to date; and the U.S. contingent of the SEATO 
Field Forces command was activated in the Philippines. The United States 
additionally took visible unilateral steps indicating its determination. 
These included the transfer of helicopters to friendly forces in Laos and 
the establishment of the Marine helicopter support base at Udorn, close by 
the Laotian border. On 19 April, the Military Assistance Advisory Group, 
Laos, was formally established. In the meantime, material and advisory 
assistance to the FAR increased significantly, and the Seventh Fleet was 
poised and ready in the South China Sea, within striking distance of the 
mainland, with its carrier aircraft and amphibious forces. 

Conversely, it seemed likely that a ceasefire would leave the Pathet Lao 
and their supporters in a position of strength. The North Vietnamese then 
would possess a supply route to South Vietnam, the Ho Chi Minh Trail, 
and the Pathet Lao would retain the capability to complete the destruction 
of government forces and seizure of the government. These factors 

""At the same time, Vice President Lyndon Johnson received a briefing by Commander Harry C. 
AUendorfer, Jr. and Lieutenant (j.g.) S.E. Wood of the Flag Plot Branch in the Office of the Chief of 
Naval Operations. The briefers revealed that the Vice President's "mind is not made up as to what is 
the best course of action but he seemed to lean towards taking a stand against Communism in some 
place other than Laos." Memo, Britten to Burke, of 1 May 1961. See also OP-33, memos for record, 
ser O0O92P33 of 28 Apr; 00093P33 of 29 Apr; 0O084P33 of 29 Apr; 00095P33 of 1 May; 
00098P33 of 1 May; memo, SECSTATE to PRES, of 1 May; CNO, memo for record, ser 000240-61 
of 2 May; Hall, "The Crisis in Laos," pp. 70-72; U.S. -V.N. Relations, bk. 11, pp. 62-66; Stevenson, End 
of Nowhere, pp. 149-53; Sorensen, Kennedy, pp. 643-47; Schlesinger, A Thousand Days, pp. 334-40. 

74 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

apparently led the Pathet Lao to agree, on 3 May, to meet with Laotian 
government officials to arrange a ceasefire. ^^ 

As these negotiations began, U.S. Pacific forces adjusted to the 
changing situation. In order to obtain some indication of the amount of 
military support flowing to the Pathet Lao, CINCPAC requested permis- 
sion to conduct aerial photographic reconnaissance over key areas in Laos. 
Following State and Defense Department concurrence, on 3 May the Joint 
Chiefs authorized the use of Seventh Fleet aircraft. The sorties, conducted 
between 4 and 8 May, provided valuable information on the Communist 
military presence in Laos."^"" 

On 8 May, five days after the interested parties announced that a 
ceasefire was agreed to, Pacific naval commanders gradually relaxed once 
again their high state of operational readiness. Admiral Griffin ordered 
Coral Sea to depart her station in the South China Sea and put in at Subic 
for replenishment and relief on 13 May by Bon Homme Richard. The 
following day, 9 May, Commander Seventh Fleet directed the Amphibi- 
ous Ready Group to leave the Gulf of Siam and sail for Subic for a much 
needed rest, while remaining on twelve-hours steaming notice. Once 
there, the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines, would be relieved by the 3rd 
Battalion of the regiment. The latter unit became the new BLT afloat in 
Thetis Bay, Paul Revere, and Monticello. And, on the 12th, Admiral Griffin 
ordered the Task Force 76 elements which assembled in Subic after 
completion of Pony Express, to sail for Okinawa. Two days later, 
CINCPAC officially relaxed the alert condition of the forces slated for the 
Laos operation. Nevertheless, the Seventh Fleet commander was confi- 
dent that his forces could be quickly concentrated again. He observed: 

With good luck and sufficient time before the [next] "flap," we can pick 
up the pieces, reassemble MGEN Weller's [Commanding General, 3rd 
Marine Division] scattered BLT's offload and unscramble the [various] 
contingency and exercise cargoes in TF 76 ships and fall in, ready :o 
jump again in an orderly fashion if directed. ^^ 

^'Lee, Communist China's Policy Toward Laos, pp. 7-8, 86-87, 91; Hall, "The Crisis in Laos," pp. 172- 

-■'Wheeler to Burke, transcript of telecon, of 4 May 1961; msgs, CTG77.6 070553Z May 1961; 
101415Z; 111334Z; CP, Command History, 1961, pp. 63-64. 

"Msg, COM7FLT 180808Z May 1961. See also msgs, 050726Z May 1961; CPFLT 050927Z; 
060239Z; 062144Z; COM7FLT 070452Z; 070506Z; 071506Z; 080250Z; 080358Z; 090746Z; 
090916Z; COM7FLT 111342Z; 121018Z; 121144Z; CP, Command History, 1961, pp. 96-97; 
Kerby, "American Military Airlift," pp. 7-8. 

Confrontation Over Laos 75 

By mid-June, most U.S. headquarters, ships, aircraft, and ground units of 
General Harkins's allied command were returned to normal operational 
deployments. The Pacific Command had weathered another Southeast 
Asian storm. 

Efforts to Form a Laotian Coalition Government 

From the time of the May ceasefire, the various factions loosely 
grouped around the three major Laotian personalities — Souvanna 
Phouma, Souphanouvong, and Phoumi Nosavan — engaged in complex 
political and military maneuvers in an effort to form a new coalition 
government. During this period, the United States continued to seek a 
Laos that would be truly neutral in its foreign relations, and in August 
joined with Great Britain and France in calling for the self-proclaimed 
neutralist Souvanna to head a new coalition government. Admirals Burke 
and Felt, however, were distrustful of any government which would 
include Communist elements, and doubted Souvanna's ability to control 
them. Their views were echoed by leaders of the Thai and South 
Vietnamese governments, who feared that the establishment of a coalition 
headed by Souvanna was merely the prelude to their own forced 
accommodation, if not subjugation, to communism. Reportedly, President 
Diem was "convinced that Souvanna is nothing but a creature of the 
Pathet Lao."^'' Diem was particularly alarmed by the dramatic upsurge in 
Viet Cong activity in South Vietnam during the fall of 1961, which he 
attributed to the infusion of arms and supplies into his country via the Ho 
Chi Minh Trail, now completely secured by Communist forces. 

U.S. military leaders also recognized the implications if the Pathet Lao 
retained their hold on the Plain of Jars and on the areas bordering South 
Vietnam and Cambodia. In their opinion, the ultimate objective of the 
North Vietnamese was unification with South Vietnam and that the 
"continued Communist logistic buildup in southern Laos is designed 
primarily to support Viet Cong activities in South Vietnam."^' Under 
these circumstances, U.S. strategists gradually shifted their emphasis to the 
defense of South Vietnam and Thailand. This was especially the case 

^'^Memo, OP-61 to OP-06, ser 001962P61 of 13 Sep 1961. See also memos, CNO to JCS, ser 
00694P61 of 24 Jun 1961; OP-61 to OP-06, ser 001934P61 of 23 Aug. 
"Msg, CP 080408Z Nov 1961. 

76 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

following the Taylor visit to South Vietnam in October 1961, when U.S. 
measures to strengthen that country increased significantly.^* 

Another Crisis Develops in Laos 

Although Laos receded from international focus during late 1961 and 
early 1962, the internal conflict again burst into the open when the 
rightist faction led by General Phoumi resisted integration into a national 
coalition. Having adopted a policy of supporting the Souvanna govern- 
ment, the Kennedy administration now attempted to pressure Phoumi 
into compliance through various economic and political sanctions. These 
U.S. efforts, however, were to no avail, as Rear Admiral Arnold F. 
Schade, head of the CNO's Politico-Military Policy Division, succinctly 
indicated when he informed the Secretary of the Navy that the "U.S. is 
piping a lively tune" for General Phoumi, but he is "not dancing to our 
music." He added, "the rub is that we haven't any effective pressure 
devices. "^^ Policymakers were constrained from implementing more 
drastic measures by the fear that FAR strength would be weakened and 
because of the adverse reaction to be expected from Diem.'° 

While the Kennedy administration was reluctant to coerce Phoumi into 
the Souvanna-led government, the Communists did not hesitate to take 
forceful action to achieve their goals. During the first week in May 1962, 
the Pathet Lao attacked and routed Phoumi 's forces holding the exposed 
town of Nam Tha in northwest Laos. U.S. leaders recognized that the 
Nam Tha battle was an escalation in the level of violence and that the 
Communists were attempting to resolve the political impasse with a 
psychological blow to Phoumi's power base, the army. Following the 

^*Memo, Director of Intelligence, Joint Staff to Vice Director, Joint Staff, JCS, serJ2DM-333-61 of 
18 Sep 1961; msgs, AMEMB Saigon 5PM 7 Oct; CP 080408Z Nov; Itr, CNO to Flag and General 
Officers, of 4Jan 1962; Dommen, Conflict m Laos, pp. 200- 13; Stevenson, End of Nouhere, pp. 153- 
69; Fall, Anatomy of a Crisis, pp. 219-31; Toye, Laos, pp. 171-79; Sorensen, Kennedy, pp. 646-47; 
Hilsman, To Moie a Nation, pp. 135-40; Schlesinger, A Thousand Days, pp. 363-68. 

^'Memo, OP-61 to SECNAV, ser 001543P61 of 24 Jan 1962. 

'"Memos, OP-61 to CNO, ser 00601 P61 of 2 Jan 1962; OP-61 to SECNAV, ser 00608P61 of 18 
Jan; ser 00618P61 of 19 Feb; ser 001686 of 3 Apr; ser 00634P61 of 25 Apr; Itr, CNO to Flag and 
General Officers, of 7 Mar; Donald E. Nuechterlein, Thailand and the Struggle for Southeast Asia 
(Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1965), pp. 221-38; Stevenson, End of Nouhere, pp. 171-73; Marek 
Thee, Notes of a Witness: Laos and the Second Indochinese War (New York: Random House, 1973), pp. 
213-25; Dommen, Conflict in Laos, p. 216; Schlesinger, A Thousand Days, pp. 512-16. 

Confrontation Over Laos 11 

attack, Brigadier General Andrew J. Boyle, USA, the Chief, MAAG Laos, 
reported that the combat effectiveness of government forces in northern 
Laos was "nil." The following week, Ambassador Brown added that 
"Laos [is] now in posit where it can be overrun at [any] time and to the 
extent of other side's choosing. "'' The danger was that in the absence of a 
credible internal or external counterweight, the Pathet Lao and their 
North Vietnamese allies, emboldened and propelled by this singular 
victory, would complete the destruction of the Royal Laotian Govern- 
ment. On 12 May, Ambassador Brown warned that "it is unlikely we can 
achieve our objective of a truly neutral government if we do not act in 
some unmistakable fashion. "^^ 

Anticipating that this action might be a military response, U.S. leaders 
took preparatory steps. On the 10th, four days after the fall of Nam Tha, 
CINCPAC received orders to deploy to the Gulf of Siam those elements 
of the Seventh Fleet he deemed essential. Admiral Felt immediately 
alerted relevant commands and activated the Fieadquarters, Joint Task 
Force 116 on Okinawa. Rear Admiral Paul P. Blackburn's Hancock attack 
carrier group was directed to proceed to an operating area off Danang, 
and the Amphibious Ready Group to steam into the Gulf of Siam from 
Subic Bay. This ready force, under the command of Captain Fienry S. 
Jackson, comprised amphibious assault ship Valley Forge (LPFi-8), Navarro 
(APA-215), Point Defiance (LSD-31) and the embarked Marine Special 
Landing Force, composed of the 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines and Medium 
Fielicopter Squadron (FIMM) 261. Admiral Sides quickly implemented 
these actions, and took the additional step of advising Commander 
Seventh Fleet that amphibious units soon might be needed. The fleet's 
amphibious task force commander. Rear Admiral Edwin B. F^ooper, 
alerted his subordinate task groups and dispatched amphibious ships to the 
Fuji training area in Japan to embark Marine units. Fie also ordered the 
assembly of available shipping in Buckner Bay, Okinawa. 

On 12 May, the tempo of events quickened. The antisubmarine warfare 
aircraft of VP 40, operating from the Philippines, provided aerial 

^'Msg, CPFLT 120033Z May 1962. See also msgs, CPFLT 092147Z May 1962; CP 150132Z. 

"Msg, CPFLT 120033Z May 1962. See also Stevenson, End of Nowhere, pp. 174-75; Dommen, 
Conflict in Laos, pp. 217-19; Goldstein, American Policy Toward Laos, pp. 257-62; Lee, Communist 
China's Policy Toward Laos, p. 88; Hilsman, To Move a Nation, pp. 140-41. 

78 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

protection for the concentrating forces. Marine helicopter squadron 
HMM 363 stood ready with twenty-four H-34s at its station in Soc Trang, 
South Vietnam, to provide emergency support. To increase Hancock's air 
strength, Commander Seventh Fleet, now Vice Admiral William A. 
Schoech, called for the movement of VMF 45 1 from Atsugi to Cubi Point. 
Once there, eight of the squadron's F8U aircraft flew on board the carrier 
for temporary attachment. To provide additional antisubmarine support. 
Rear Admiral Joseph B. Tibbets, who only the day before relieved Rear 
Admiral Henry L. Miller as commander of the Hunter-Killer Group in 
Bennington, was ordered on 13 May to join Hancock. 

While U.S. military forces in the Western Pacific made ready, the 
Kennedy administration contemplated the possible ramifications of the 
first large-scale deployment of U.S. ground combat forces on the Asian 
mainland since the Korean War. With the fall of Nam Tha, U.S. 
policymakers faced the need to reassure friendly nations in Southeast Asia, 
and were prepared to go beyond the use of fleet movements and other 
'"shows of force." With the FAR now seriously demoralized, U.S. leaders 
reasoned that only external forces were capable of achieving a return to 
the ceasefire stability and encouraging international support for a neutral- 
ist government headed by Souvanna Phouma. As Admiral George W. 
Anderson, Jr., the new Chief of Naval Operations, informed his immedi- 
ate staff on 14 May: 

In its recent decisions and actions the United States was out to 
demonstrate that it meant business .... We are out to bolster our 
friends in South Vietnam and Thailand, if unfortunately it was difficult 
to determine just who were our friends in Laos .... The United States' 
position involved trying to induce the Communists through pressure to 
have the Pathet Lao/Viet Minh forces withdraw to the positions they 
occupied before the attack." 

"CNO, Minutes of Meeting, 14 May 1962. See also msgs.JCS 0721 59Z May 1962; 110128Z;CP 
110625Z; CPFLT 110826Z; COM7FLT 111618Z; CPFLT 112359Z; CTG76.5 121540Z; CPFLT 
122201Z; JCS 130231Z; COM7FLT 151936Z; ■•Summary of Operational Events due to Uos 
Situation," of 1 1 May; CNO Flag Plot, "Westpac as of 14 May 1962;" Stevenson, EnJ oj Nowhere, pp. 
176-77; David K. Hall, "The Laotian War of 1962 and the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971" in Barry M. 
Blechman and Stephen S. Kaplan, eds., The Use of the Armed Forees ai a Political Instrument (Washington: 
Brookings Institution, 1976), pp. 4-11; Sorensen, Kennedy, pp. 647-48. 

Confrontation Over Laos 79 

U.S. Combat Forces Deploy to Thailand, May 1962 

All of these factors were involved in President Kennedy's decision, on 
15 May, to deploy large U.S. combat forces to Thailand.'^ The units 
involved were intended to symbolize the American commitment to 
defend that country, and by association, South Vietnam. In addition, it was 
hoped that the deployment would moderate Communist actions in Laos. 
To command this operation, the Joint Chiefs ordered the establishment of 
the United States Military Assistance Command, Thailand. Lieutenant 
General Harkins, who already led a similar command in Vietnam, was 
designated to direct the actions of both organizations through CINCPAC. 
At the same time. Lieutenant General James L. Richardson, Jr., USA, was 
appointed Commander Joint Task Force 116, formerly a Marine general 
officer's billet. 

Already set in motion several days earlier, the air, naval, and ground 
forces designated to comprise or support the task force continued their 
forward deployment. During the next week the armed U.S. contingent in 
Thailand was bolstered significantly. Lieutenant General Richardson and 
107 officers and men of his task force staff were airlifted to Bangkok on 
15 May, and the following day he assumed operational control of all U.S. 
combat forces in Thailand, under the command of the Military Assistance 
Command, Thailand. Subordinate to General Richardson was Brigadier 
General Ormand Simpson, USMC, the Assistant Division Commander, 
3rd Marine Division, who was designated Naval Component 
Commander, Joint Task Force 116. The naval component was the 3rd 
Marine Expeditionary Brigade (later changed to 3rd Marine Expedition- 
ary Unit) from the 3rd Marine Division on Okinawa. Reinforcements and 
support units for Army formations and Air Force tactical and cargo aircraft 
made the transit to Thailand from bases and installations all over the 
Pacific theater. 

Naval forces assisted these deploying units. Steaming off Danang and 
providing air support to the operation, Hancock was joined on 15 May by 
the Hunter-Killer Group of Rear Admiral Tibbets in Bennington. At the 
same time, Rear Admiral Hooper collected amphibious shipping from 

'■'Actually, a U.S. Army regiment already was in Thailand participating in a combined exercise. See 
Robert A. Whitlow, U.S. Marina in Vietnam: The Advisor)' and Combat Assistance Era. 1954-1964 
(Washington: History and Museums Division, Headquarters, USMC, 1977), p. 88. 

80 United States Natj and Vietnam Conflict 

throughout the Western Pacific at Buckner Bay and alerted elements of 
the 3rd, 9th, and 12th Marines for possible embarkation. 

The Marine Special Landing Force, embarked in Amphibious Ready 
Group ships, already was close to the debarkation point when the JCS 
ordered execution of the landing. At 0424 on 17 May, Navarro and Point 
Defiance crossed the bar at the entrance to the Bangkok ship channel as 
Valley Forge, standing offshore because of her deep draft, began the fly-off 
of the eighteen HMM 261 helicopters. After berthing at Bangkok early 
that morning, Navarro and Point Defiance placed ashore 1,500 Marines of 
the Special Landing Force's battalion landing team, which was composed 
of the 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, and attached tank, artillery, and 
engineer units. The force was quickly transported to Udorn. The unit was 
prepared for combat, with Marine helicopter and close air support near at 
hand. The only major problem encountered during this swiftly executed 
administrative landing was the offloading of ammunition and other cargo 
from Valley Forge. Ship-to-shore lighters, which the Thais agreed to 
furnish, missed the rendezvous with Captain Jackson's ships on the I6th. 
As a result, this essential task did not commence until the late morning of 
18 May. However, by the end of that day, the work was completed. Soon 
after, the task group got underway for Subic Bay, where Talladega (APA- 
208) and Belle Grove (LSD-2) previously transported the 1st Battalion, 9th 
Marines, and six remaining helicopters of HMM 261 in order to restore 
the strength of the Amphibious Ready Group. 

The air elements of the Marine force also swiftly converged on 
Thailand. On 16 May, VMA 332, which deployed from Iwakuni to Cubi 
Point only days before, departed for Udorn. The squadron's twenty A4D- 
2N Skyhawks, after in-flight refueling over the South China Sea, reached 
their destination by 1200. Subsequent airlift brought in some elements of 
a provisional Marine aircraft group headquarters. Marine Air Base 
Squadron 12, and Marine Air Control Squadron 4 while Vernon County 
and Windham County (LST-1170) delivered the remainder to Bangkok in 
early June. 

At the end of May, the Marine force at Udorn was augmented by a 
seventy-one man detachment from NMCB 10. The SEABEEs immediately 
began work on camp facilities and constructed a sawmill to provide tent 
platforms and frames. To provide the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Unit with 
more extensive support, a logistic support group was sealifted to Bangkok 
between 2 and 10 June by Washtenaw County (LST-1 166), Whitfield County 

Confrontation Over Laos 81 

(LST-1169), and Mathetvs (AKA-96). From that port, the unit moved 
forward to Udorn by air and rail." 

Although the deployment of U.S. forces for the Thailand operation was 
similar in many respects to the actions taken during the crises of 1959 
through early 1961, the differences were significant. Unlike the previous 
military moves at the height of periods of tension, this operation was 
deliberately kept "low-key." Pacific forces not directly involved with Joint 
Task Force 116 continued their routine activities and no Pacific-wide 
increased level of defense readiness was ordered. The relatively small size 
of the force prepared for possible intervention in Laos was intentionally 
unthreatening to all but the lightly armed guerrilla forces. Also, in 
contrast to former confrontations over Southeast Asia, U.S. objectives 
were fully and publicly explained to avoid any misconceptions on the part 
of the Communist powers as to U.S. intentions. Through diplomatic 
channels and various informational media, the Kennedy administration 
revealed that the goals sought were limited in scope. Secretary of State 
Rusk stated, for example: 

We have an interest in Laos, where our policy continues to be the 
reestablishment of a ceasefire and negotiations on a government of 
national union. We also have obligations to Thailand and to South 
Vietnam. In the light of all these obligations, the President has ordered 
certain precautionary moves of the U.S. armed forces, which will 
improve our flexibility for any contingency that the Communists may 
force upon us.^'^ 

Three days later, in announcing the proposed landing. President Kennedy 
also refrained from threatening rhetoric and made no mention of a 
movement into Laos, although that action could now be readily accom- 
plished. The President stated that 

'^"U.S. Force Disposition Thailand," of 16 May 1962; "Status of U.S. deployments to Thailand," 
of 18 May; Edwin B. Hooper, interview with Robert H. Whitlow, Marine Corps Historical Center, in 
Washington, DC, 15 Apr 1974; msgs, JCS 150223Z May 1962; CP 15I305Z;JCS 151600Z; CP 
151834Z; CPFLT 160420Z; CHJUSMAG THAI 160935Z; ADMIN CPFLT 1801 19Z; CPFLT 
1901 16Z; COM7FLT 220728Z; COM7FLT SITREPS 7 (171600Z May) — 10 (201600Z); 
CTG76.5 SITREPS 160006Z — 180650Z May; Kerby, "American Military Airlift," p. 8; Whitlow, 
U.S. Marines in Vietnam, pp. 86-95; Edwin B. Hooper, transcript of interview with John T. Mason, Jr., 
U.S. Naval Institute, in Annapolis, MD, 1978, p. 344. 

^■^Msg, SECSTATE 9:56PM 12 May 1962. 

82 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

in response to a request of the Government of Thailand, I have today 
ordered that elements of U.S. military forces, both ground and air, are 
to proceed to Thailand and to remain there until further ordered. These 
forces are to help insure the territorial integrity of this peaceful country 
which now faces a threat of Communist aggression [and to put the 
United States] in a position to fulfill speedily our obligations under the 
Manila Pact of 1954, a defense arrangement .... I emphasize that this is 
a defensive act on the part of the U.S.'^ 

In subsequent weeks, however, a further movement by U.S. forces into 
Laos was under consideration. Admiral Felt believed that possible military 
operations in Laos should not be ignored. He observed to the Joint Chiefs 

actions being taken on both unilateral and international scene to 
reinforce Thailand are accompanied by statements that no commitment 
is implied to do anything in Laos should there be another ceasefire 
violation by the Communist forces. Although I concur with opinions 
being expressed that Communists are now willing to have a talk and 
defer fighting for a time to be determined by them, it is essential for us 
to decide what we shall do when they start another fight .... Airborne 
battle group in Okinawa is readily available as are all forces earmarked 
for Plan 32-59.^** 

Support for the introduction of U.S. forces into Laos, in the event a 
ceasefire could not be achieved, was not strong within the administration. 
Nevertheless, additional planning for this eventuality was undertaken. 
These measures included a conventional defense of Southeast Asia along a 
northern South Vietnam-southern Laos line, which was seriously consid- 
ered by the JCS. Another alternative was offered by Admiral Anderson, 
who proposed in a memorandum to Secretary of Defense McNamara that 
in the event a neutralist government was unobtainable and the Commu- 
nists again violated a ceasefire, 

air strikes by U.S. forces against Vietminh and Pathet Lao supply 
facilities and logistic lines in Laos [which] might suffice [to stabilize the 
situation]. However, it may be necessary to inflict a series of defeats 
upon the Communist forces in Laos. A quick strike. ..making full use of 

''Msg, OSD 151820Z May 1962. See also Hall, -The Laotian War of 1962, '■ pp. 5-11. 
^^Msg, CP 182109Z May 1962. See also msg, CP 230144Z. 

Confrontation Over Laos 83 

air... would be a further step to deter Vietminh and Pathet Lao activities 
without permanent commitment of U.S. troops in Laos.'^ 

The CNO reiterated his beHef that large-scale ground combat with 
Communist forces was inadvisable, but that selective air strikes in Laos 
should be 

coupled with strongest political warnings to North Vietnam that their 
continued use of military or subversive actions in Laos and South 
Vietnam will inevitably result in expanded military action against North 
Vietnam. I: is essential that we convince the North Vietnamese 
government that we will not tolerate further incursions by them into 
other Southeast Asian countries. It is possible that military measures may 
eventually be required in North Vietnam or even in Communist 

Admiral Anderson concluded by stating: 

A strong warning to North Vietnam accompanied by quick strikes at 
Communist forces in Laos, following our firm measures in South 
Vietnam and commitment of U.S. forces in Thailand, may convince the 
Communists that further aggression could provoke larger scale U.S. 
intervention, which would pose an unacceptable risk for them.'*' 

The Geneva Conference on Laos 

All of these possible military measures soon were overtaken by political 
developments. On 1 1 June, Ambassador Brown reported that the three 
factions at last had reached agreement on the composition of a coalition 

"Memo, CNO to SECDEF, of 12 Jun 1962 in memo, OP-06 to CNO, of 12 Jun 1962. 

''"ihid. Several weeks earlier. Admiral Claude V. Ricketts, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, 
informed Pacific naval commanders that there was "some sentiment in Executive Department" for a 
one-time carrier strike against logistic or industrial targets of "great value to Viet Minh" in North 
Vietnam. The purpose of the attack would be to "demonstrate determination of U.S." This attack 
would be linked with a presidential statement that "worse will happen if Communist moves not 
stopped." Msg, CNO 261813Z May 1962. 

""Memo, CNO to SECDEF, of 12 Jun 1962 in memo, OP-06 to CNO, of 12 Jun 1962. See also 
memo, Leverton to Persons and Needham, ser 000676P60 of 26 May; NSC Action Memo No. 157 
of 29 May in memo, NSC, of 29 May; memos, OP-60 to CNO, ser 000684-62 of 4 Jun; ser 000687- 
62 of 6 Jun; OP-60 to OP-06, ser BM00069 1 -62 of 6 Jun; OP-60 to CNO, ser 000723-62 of 1 1 Jun; 
msg, CNO 0423 15Z Jun 1962; Hilsman, To Moie a Nation,pp. 142-51; Stephen E. Pelz, "'When Do 
I have time to Think?' "John F. Kennedy, Roger Hilsman, and the Laotian Crisis of 1962," Diplomatic 
History, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Spring 1979), pp. 215-29; Roger Hilsman and Stephen E. Pelz, "When is a 
Document not a Document — And Other Thoughts," Diplomatic History, Vol. 3, No. 3 (Summer 
1979), pp. 345-48. 

84 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

government. Reflecting the new balance in the relative strength of the 
opposing sides, a compromise was reached. Phoumi agreed to join the 
coalition. The Communist side appeared to be dissuaded from further 
attacks on the general's troops by the presence of U.S. forces in Southeast 
Asia. Thus, the U.S. objective of establishing a ceasefire and a government 
in Laos that was at least nominally neutral, was achieved. Rear Admiral 
Schade, the Director, Politico-Military Policy Division, observed: "It 
would appear that we have, in fact, what we bargained for, i.e., a coalition 
government with the neutrals in the cabinet holding the balance of 
power." But he also expressed the rather generally held fear that "the 
exact composition of these neutrals and how long this government will be 
able to resist Communist subversion remains to be seen."^^ 

On 2 July, Great Britain and the Soviet Union, co-chairmen of the 
fourteen-nation gathering, reconvened the Geneva Conference on Laos to 
ratify this agreement. Although Thailand and South Vietnam still were 
hesitant to endorse an accord that held obvious dangers for their own 
existence, U.S. officials urged the South Vietnamese and Thais to accept 
the proposed pact. The assembled world powers signed the "Geneva 
Declaration and Protocol on Neutrality of Laos" on 23 July 1962.'*' 

The main provisions of the treaty stipulated that non-Laotian military 
elements, including North Vietnamese but excepting French military 
instructors, be withdrawn from the country within seventy-five days. 
CINCPAC, anticipating the requirement to evacuate U.S. personnel and 
equipment from Laos, already had directed General Boyle to draw up a 
plan to this effect. Soon after the signing of the Geneva Agreement, 
Admiral Felt ordered implementation of this plan. For the next several 
months, the U.S. military presence in Laos diminished as MAAG 
components were transferred to Thailand. Finally, on 6 October, the last 
elements of General Boyle's MAAG departed Laos. 

While this process took place. Joint Task Force 116 remained in 
Thailand as a visible deterrent to any Communist exploitation of the 
withdrawal and as a symbol to the Thais and South Vietnamese of 

"Memo, OP-61 to SECNAV, ser 001852P61 of 26 Jun 1962. 

"'Memo, OP-61 to SECNAV, ser 001 794P61 of 7 Jun 1962; msg, AMEMBVT 1 1 1353Z; memos, 
OP-61 to SECNAV, ser 0018 14P61 of 14 Jun; ser 001852P61 of 26Jun; ser 001867P61 of 5 Jul; ser 
001891P61 of 12 Jul; ser 001912P61 of 19 Jul; Hall, The Laotian War of 1962," pp. 23-28; 
Stevenson, End of Nouhere, pp. 177-81; Dommen, Conflict in Laos, pp. 219-26; Thee, Notes of a Witness, 
pp. 289-300; Schlesinger, A Thousand Days, pp. 517-18. 

Confrontation Over Laos 85 

continued U.S. support. However, the size and composition of the force 
gradually was altered. As authorized by the President, Marine units began 
redeploying from Udorn on 2 July. That same day. Valley Forge arrived off 
Bangkok to embark the helicopters of HMM 162 (which had replaced 
HMM 261) and the A4Ds of VMA 332 flew from Udorn to Cubi Point. 
With Admiral Schoech in Thailand to observe the redeployment. Carter 
Hall (LSD-3) and Belle Grove embarked heavy equipment and personnel of 
3rd Marine Expeditionary Unit elements and sailed from Bangkok on 7 
July. Rear Admiral Hooper also directed Seminole, Westchester County (LST- 
1167), and Terrell County (LST-1157) to provide sealift for Marine 
supplies and equipment. The 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines, "after two and a 
half months on the muddy frontier of freedom," where they served as a 
visible deterrent and trained in a new environment, began their airlift to 
Okinawa on 28 July, as did Brigadier General Simpson's headquarters.'*'' 
As of 1 1 August, all Marine forces had departed Thailand, leaving behind 
Army units to oversee the withdrawal of MAAG Laos and to observe 
developments. By early December, all U.S. combat forces were rede- 
ployed and Joint Task Force 116 was disestablished.'*' 

Although the Geneva Agreement ended legal justification for U.S. or 
North Vietnamese military presence in Laos, both sides continued to 
prosecute the struggle covertly. U.S. officials never placed great faith in 
North Vietnamese pledges to vacate the country. Their suspicions were 
not misplaced, as evidence of the departure of North Vietnamese fighting 
units was scant. Further, by the end of 1962, infiltration operations along 
the Ho Chi Minh Trail functioned with growing efficiency and sophistica- 
tion. Protected by most of the 6,000 to 10,000 North Vietnamese troops 
in Laos, Group 559 oversaw the movement south by vehicle and on foot 
of the now thoroughly trained "regroupees." Since 1959, some 10,000 to 
20,000 personnel had infiltrated into South Vietnam, where they 
strengthened Viet Cong units, proselytized the populace, and in general 
abetted the insurgency. In fact, between 1959 and late 1962, the number 
and size of infiltrating units increased yearly. The war for the South 
continued in earnest.^"^ 

■'■'Msg, COM7FLT 311750Z Jul 1962. 

'•'Memo, OP-60 to OP-06, ser BM000820 of 30 Jun 1962; msgs, COM7FLT ADMIN 030856Z 
Jul; COM7FLT 100820Z; CP 270350Z; memos, OP-60 to OP-06, ser BM00824- 62 of 3 Jul; OP-60 
to CNO, ser BM000902-62 of 31 Jul. 

'"'Stevenson, End of Nowhere, pp. 180-88; Dommen, Conflict in Laos, pp. 238-40; Arthur J. Dommen, 
"The Future of Nonh Vietnam," Current History (Apr 1970), p. 230; Weiner, Brom, and Koon, 
Infiltration of Personnel From North Vietnam, pp. vi, 7, 39, 41, 53; Langer and Zasloff, North Vietnam and 

86 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

Unconvinced that the Nonh Vietnamese intended to cease Tunneling 
troops and supplies through eastern Laos and into Vietnam via the trail, 
U.S. leaders, after a pause, resumed use of the resources of the CIA to 
support and train Meo and other hill tribesmen, as well as certain of 
Phoumi's troops. As Admiral Felt observed in July, the "signing of 
Geneva Agreement will not end struggle. Laos will continue to have 
pivotal role in future of SE Asia."^" 

The confrontation over Laos did much to shape current and future 
developments in South Vietnam. From 1959 through 1962, events in Laos 
reflected a growing military activism on the part of the Asian Communists, 
most notably the North Vietnamese. It was matched by growing U.S. 
determination to resist these advances. But, in the last analysis, the 
compromise achieved in Laos was less than satisfactory to many American 
leaders, including top-ranking naval officers. Not only was the Geneva 
settlement seen as detrimental to South Vietnamese internal security, it 
was viewed as a psychological blow to Diem's faith in the American 
commitment. The perceived political failure in Laos greatly stimulated the 
U.S. effort to aid in the defense of South Vietnam, lest it become another 
victim of Communist expansion. 

In each of the Laos crises, naval forces played a major role in the 
U.S. response through their presence. This show of strength included 
the deployment of task forces into the South China Sea, multi-ship fleet 
exercises, symbolic ship visits to Southeast Asian capitals, aerial 
reconnaissance, military aid, advisory assistance, and the landing of 
Marine combat forces, as in Thailand during 1962. The confrontation 
over Laos reaffirmed the conclusion drawn by naval leaders after the 
Lebanon and Taiwan Strait crises of the late 1950s that a determined 
stand by U.S. military forces could forestall Communist actions. 
Specifically, the presence of the Seventh Fleet in the Southeast Asian 

ihe Palhel Lao, p. 79; Department of State, A Threat to the Peace: North Vietnam 's Effort to Conquer South 
Vietnam (Washington: GPO, 1961), pt. I, pp. 40-42; Depanment of State, "Aggression From the 
North," p. 407; Hilsman, To Mote a Nation, pp. 151-55; Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Vietnam: The 
Anti-U.S. Resistance War, pp. 30-32. 

"'Msg, CP 18065 IZ Jul 1962. See also Itr, CNO to Flag and General Officers, of 20 Aug; memos, 
OP-61 (Acting) to SECNAV, ser 00663P61 of 20 Aug; OP-61 to CNO, ser 00673P61 of 19 Sep; 
OP-61 to OP-06, ser 00682P61 of 1 Oct; Dommen, Conflict in Laos, pp. 227-30; Stevenson, End of 
Nouhere, pp. 1 78-92; Toye, Laos, pp. 1 87-90; Goldstein, American Policy Touard Laos, pp. 263-68, 28 1- 
89; Thee, Notes of a Witness, pp. 300-34; Douglas S. Blaufarb, The Counterinsurgency Era: U.S. Doctrine 
and Performance. 1950 to the Present (New York: The Free Press, 1977), pp. 148-58. 


Confrontation Over Laos 87 

area and its potential for further action were believed by many to have 
been a primary factor in deterring the Communists from a complete 
takeover in Laos. The reluctance of political and military leaders alike 
to commit ground forces — aside from the limited deployment of 
troops to Thailand — was contrasted with the utility of air and naval 
forces in influencing enemy behavior. But, the repeated shows of force 
over Laos also revealed to naval leaders that greater efforts were 
required to provide a fleet capable of sustained combat. As measures 
were instituted in this regard, steps also were taken to assist the peoples 
of Southeast Asia in their fight against insurgencies that posed 
immediate threats to their continued existence. The testing ground for 
this latter effort was South Vietnam. 


The Navy, Counterinsurgency, 
and the Growing Threat in 
South Vietnam, 1959-1961 

Throughout the Laos crises, the United States became increasingly 
concerned that Southeast Asia was most endangered by Communist- 
inspired insurgency. A number of U.S. leaders were convinced that 
traditional military actions for dealing with aggression were ill-suited to 
this threat and they reasoned that the politico-military phenomenon could 
be successfully countered only through special counter-measures. This 
approach evolved into the doctrine of "counterinsurgency," which was 
defined as embodying the "entire scope of military, paramilitary, political, 
economic, psychological, and civic actions taken by or in conjunction with 
the government of a nation to defeat insurgency."' 

Admiral Felt, the Pacific commander, was an early advocate of 
preparing U.S. and friendly forces to cope with insurgency. He believed 
that the key "ingredient" to the economic and political prosperity of a 
Western-oriented Southeast Asia was "internal security against subversion 
and its accompanying manifestations of banditry, hunger, devastation and 
chaos."' These ideas were reflected in Operation Plan 32-59, issued by 
Admiral Felt on 16 December 1959, which was the first comprehensive 
plan concerned with the defense of Southeast Asia. Although the 
document considered all forms of Communist aggression, it emphasized 
that the enemy would "seek to gain their objectives by means other than 
war, general or limited" by employing "political, economic, diplomatic, 
and psychological means .... Subversion and the fostering of indigenous 

'CNO, "Terminology for Counterinsurgency Matters," ser 361P60 of 29 Mar 1962. 
^Ltr, Felt to Draper, of 28 Dec 1958. Admiral Felt, when he served on the staff at the Naval War 
College in the early 1950s, introduced guerrilla and anti-guerrilla warfare to the curriculum. 


Counterinsurgency. and the Grotving Threat in South Vietnam 89 

dissident forces [would] be exploited to the fullest."^ 

In contrast to Laos, South Vietnam was not believed in imminent 
danger. U.S. leaders repeatedly affirmed during 1959 that the insurgency 
in South Vietnam, spearheaded by an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 guerrillas, 
was being successfully combatted. In November, Lieutenant General 
Samuel T. Williams, USA, the Chief, Military Assistance Advisory Group 
(MAAG), Vietnam, went so far as to state that "MAP arms and training 
[had] enabled the regular forces of [jzV.] Vietnam to reduce the internal 
communist threat to the point where the economic growth of the country" 
could proceed. "* 

This appraisal of Viet Cong strength soon was overtaken by the events 
of late 1959 and early I960. Beginning in September 1959, sizeable 
enemy units attacked government troops and installations, exhibiting 
aggressiveness and skill in their operations. New intelligence estimates 
increased the number of armed insurgents to between 3,000 and 5,000. 
Many of these men infiltrated from North Vietnam, some reportedly by 
sea. At the same time, assassination of government officials and supporters 
became epidemic. Conversely, South Vietnamese forces, in general 
trained in conventional tactics, were increasingly unable to deal with 
either the guerrilla units or more covert insurgents.^ 

These developments prompted a reanalysis of Communist intentions 
and capabilities and of measures needed to counter the heightened threat 
to internal security. On 7 March I960 the U.S. country team, in a lengthy 
report, detailed the seriousness of the situation. Admiral Felt also was 
concerned with the deterioration of South Vietnam's stability and the 
apparent inability of the Republic of Vietnam Armed Forces (RVNAF) to 
combat successfully Communist guerrilla tactics and subversion of the 
population. On 14 March, he proposed the development of an anti- 
guerrilla capability within the Vietnamese armed forces by a redirection in 
training of selected units. The following month, CINCPAC, in response 

^CINCPAC, Operation Plan 32-59, ser 000253 of 16 Dec 1959. See also CINCPAC, Command 
History, 1959, pp. 37-38; Itr, Hopwood to Burke, of 12 Sep 1959; memos, Kalen to Ricketts, ser 
0035P004 of 14 Mar 1959; OP60 to CNO, ser BM96-59 of 19 Mar; OP-60 to CNO, ser BM224-59 
of 4 Jun; ser BM420-59 of 12 Sep; Felt, Interview, Vol. II, pp. 577-79. 

■*Msg, CHMAAGVN 300429Z Nov 1959. See also CINCPAC, Operation Plan 32-59; memos, 
OP-61 to CNO, ser BM39-56 of 13 Dec 1956; OP-004, ser 000600P004 of 1 1 Dec; OP-60 to CNO, 
ser BM224-59 of 4Jun 1959; OP-612 to OP-06, ser BM35-59 of 25 Jun; OP-61 to OP-06, ser BM49- 
59 of 8 Sep; OP-92B1 to OP-06, ser 000624-59 of 8 Sep. 

'Msg, AMEMB Saigon of 7 Mar I960 in U.S. -V.N. Relations, bk. 10, pp. 1254-75; bk. 2, pt. IVA.5, 
pp. 43-48. 

90 United States Naty and Vietnam Conflict 

to JCS suggestions, also requested that U.S. Army Special Forces teams be 
assigned to Vietnam to train Vietnamese ranger cadres. This effort began 
functioning under the MA AG in June 1960.^ 

Naval Leaders Consider Vessels for Counterinsurgency 

In addition to Admiral Felt, other naval officers were sensitive to the 
threat posed by guerrilla warfare and insurgency, especially in Southeast 
Asia. During 1958 and 1959, CINCPACFLT, Admiral Herbert G. 
Hopwood, and Commander Seventh Fleet, Vice Admiral Frederick N. 
Kivette, agreed that there was a need for small gunboats to enable 
indigenous navies to conduct several types of missions, including counter- 
insurgency. Long-range projections also indicated the need for craft 
capable of operating in inland and coastal waters to deal with the guerrilla 
threat. In February 1959, the CNO's Long Range Objectives Group 
observed that 

while clearly the most appropriate place for such craft is in navies 
indigenous to the area, the U.S. Navy's lack of interest or capability now 
leaves it in no position to demonstrate the potential of such craft, to 
assist in their development, or to encourage by precept and example the 
procurement and training of adequate forces.^ 

The group recommended that "as a minimum, prototypes of small, 
modern combat craft should be procured... and a permanent unit formed 
to develop and test techniques, and to assist foreign navies through 
demonstration, development assistance and training activities." While 
Congress authorized construction of a number of gunboats (approximately 
175 feet in length) in shipbuilding programs from 1958 to 1961, the U.S. 
legislature did not provide actual appropriations for this work. 

A similar result attended the efforts to augment indigenous naval 
forces, and secondarily the U.S. Navy, with craft variously described as 
small patrol boats, motor torpedo boats, motor gunboats, and finally, fast 

'^Msg, AMEMB Saigon of 7 Mar 1960 in U.S.-V.N. Relaiiom, bk. 10, pp. 1254-75; bk. 2, pt. IVA.5, 
pp. 43-48; msg, CP 14235 IZ Mar 1960; CINCPAC, Command History, 1960, pp. 162-63; OP-60, 
memo of information, ser 064P60 of 23 Mar 1960; Spector, Adiice and Support, pp. 329-48. 

'Long Range Objectives Group (CNO), "Statement of U.S. Navy Long Range Objectives 1969- 
74" (LRO-59), ser 004P93 of 24 Feb 1959, p. 34. 

Coiinterinsurgency, and the Growing Threat in South Vietnam 91 

patrol boats. Beginning in 1958, naval leaders in the Pacific theater 
recommended that aging and inadequate patrol craft in the inventories of 
America's Asian allies be replaced with small, fast, shallow-draft boats 
armed with light weapons, displacing no more than eighty tons — a limit 
imposed by the capacity of Southeast Asian off-loading cranes — and 
capable of a top speed of 25 knots. CINCPACFLT concluded that "in 
view of the instability of these [ Southeast Asian] countries, the availability 
of suitable craft for ready use in restricted waters could be a deciding 
factor in preventing overt or covert Communist infiltration or even actual 
aggression."^ These craft would conduct reconnaissance and raids against 
enemy vessels and shore defenses. Admiral Kivette proposed, and 
Admiral Hopwood concurred, that twenty to twenty-five boats be 
developed and procured. During 1959 and I960, naval planners in 
Washington and commanders in the Pacific continued to state the 
requirement for small patrol craft in order "to establish an operating and 
training nucleus of this type in the Fleet which could be rapidly expanded 
when needed in larger numbers."' 

In July 1959, Admiral Burke stimulated activity within the Office of the 
Chief of Naval Operations concerning the possibility of developing a new 
motor torpedo boat. He suggested that "if PT's could be built cheaply and 
still be efficient, the addition of this type to our operating forces would be 
extremely useful to us."'° Two months later, the Material Division in the 
Office of the Chief of Naval Operations reported favorably on the 
feasibility of providing small navies with these craft: 

The characteristics of [fast patrol boats] are such that [MAP] nations can 
professionally operate, maintain, and financially afford to support them 
in reasonable numbers. To provide FPBs to these countries would be a 
comparative financial saving to the U.S. and ensure \_sic.'\ that these boats 
are located in strategically significant parts of the world, and in friendly 

"Ltr, CINCPACFLT TO CINCPAC, ser 61/00963 of 4 Nov 1958. See also Itrs, COM7FLT to 
CINCPACFLT, ser 0154 of 7 Jul; CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 61/00646 of 2 Aug. 

'OP-415, memo, of 8 Sep 1959. See also Itrs, COM7FLT to CINCPACFLT, ser 0154 of 7 Jul 1958; 
CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 6 1/000 140 of 31 May 1959, p. 12; LeRoy Taylor, "Naval Operations m 
Confined Waters and Narrow Seas," USNIP, Vol. 86, No. 6 Uun 1960), pp. 55-60. 

'°CNO, memo, ser 00380-59 of 25 Jul 1959. 

"OP-415, memo, of 8 Sep 1959. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 





IS ^ 



S? £s 



"^ -S: 

t- CQ 

Counterinsurgency, and the Growing Threat in South Vietnam 93 

During the latter months of 1959, Admiral Felt initiated study of a 
Norwegian-produced motor torpedo boat that possessed many desirable 
design characteristics. These "Nasty" class motor torpedo boats particular- 
ly impressed Rear Admiral Paul H. Ramsey, CINCPACFLT Chief of Staff , 
due to their eighty-foot length; 4l-knot speed; ability to carry many light 
weapons; 3-foot, 7-inch draft that was "well within the maximum 
recommended for Southeast Asian use;" plastic hulls; and relatively simple 
operation and maintenance of their diesel engines.'" It was evident, 
however, following a comparative analysis of the Norwegian Nasty, a U.S. 
design motor gunboat, and a Japanese-built motor torpedo boat, that none 
was entirely suitable. At the end of I960, consideration still was being 
given to the characteristics desired.'^ 

During 1958-1960, the development of light craft was a relatively low 
priority for naval leaders in the Pacific in relation to the need to obtain 
new or modernized aircraft carriers, cruisers, destroyers, and amphibious 
vessels. Due to budgetary limits, the qualitative improvement and increase 
in the number of large surface combatants and weapon systems had first 
priority in the enhancement of the Pacific Fleet's conventional war 
capability. At the same time, many naval leaders considered the insur- 
gency threat a manageable one, and one that could be handled by existing 
indigenous forces. These factors contributed to the slow development of 
new, small craft. 

The "Counterinsurgency Plan" 

In April I960, by which time the nature and scope of the Communist 
threat to Southeast Asia was recognized by an increasing number of U.S. 
leaders, Admiral Felt forwarded for JCS approval a comprehensive plan to 
combat insurgency. The document, entitled "Counter-Insurgency Opera- 
tions in South Vietnam and Laos," was endorsed by the Chief, MAAG, 
Vietnam, and the Chief, Programs Evaluation Office, Laos. It was a 
detailed exposition of general solutions to this type of warfare and of 
particular measures to be taken in these countries. Drawing on the lessons 

'^Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CINCPAC, ser 63/00934 of 18 Nov 1959. 

^^Ihid.; Itrs, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 63/00319 of Apr 1960; CHBUSHIPS (Chairman Ship 
Characteristics Board) to CNO, ser 420-0172 of 25 Oct I960; NA London, report, 675-59-A/NA2 
of 19 Nov 1959. 

94 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

learned during successful campaigns against the Communists in the 
Philippines and Malaya and reflecting Admiral Felt's own views, it 
stressed that the primary objective in the struggle was assuring the security 
of the local populace "on a continuing basis;"'^ and securing and holding 
the hamlets, villages, and towns. But to maintain this control it also was 
essential for the government to win the allegiance of the affected people 
by improving their economic, political, and social welfare. Indeed, 
Admiral Felt stressed that "maintenance of internal security is not a purely 
military job."" 

The plan also called for a centrally controlled, well coordinated, and 
thoroughly planned campaign, involving both regular and paramilitary 
forces, police, and civil agencies to defeat the insurgency. It suggested 
intensification of coastal and river patrols by the Vietnamese Navy, 
augmented by a civilian-manned "coast-watcher" system, to impede 
infiltration from North Vietnam. Other specific proposals called for the 
reorganization of the national command structure and strengthening of 
paramilitary forces. 

Finally, the study's summary called attention to the necessity for a much 
greater expenditure on the part of the United States for the material and 
financial support of South Vietnamese and Laotian forces. Admiral Felt 
addressed the problem of the era's frugal defense budgets with the 
statement that the recommendation "may seem unrealistic in the face of 
Communist pressures to force greater expenditures by Free World 
powers," but that "onerous costs in effort, material and money have been 
found to be essentials in all successful anti-guerrilla campaigns. If 
Communist expansion is to be prevented without resorting to overt 
warfare, there is no alternative to making the expenditures required.""^ 

Nonetheless, adoption of the plan was delayed for the remainder of 
President Eisenhower's term in office. In part, this resulted from the need 
for bureaucratic coordination. Philosophic differences among U.S. offi- 
cials over the relative priorities of internal political reform as opposed to 

'■"CINCPAC, "Counter-Insurgency Operations in South Vietnam and Laos," of 26 Apr 1960, pp. 3- 
4. See also CINCPAC, Command History, 1960, pp. 23, 85-89, 143-44, 217, 232-36; U.S.-V.N. 
Relatwm, bk. 2, pt. 1VA.5, tab 4, pp. 80-83; Felt, Interview, Vol. II, pp. 422, 476, 578, 579, 588, 
597, 628, 637. 

"Msg, CP 272243Z Apr 1960. For the earlier French reaction to revolutionary war in Southeast 
Asia, see Marc E. Geneste, "Danger from Below," USNIP, Vol. 86, No. 11 (Nov 1960), p. 33. 

"'CINCPAC, 'Counter-Insurgency Operations," pp. 14-15. See also memo, OP-61 to SECNAV, 
ser 00208P61 of 9 Jun 1960, 

Counterinsurgency, and the Growing Threat in South Vietnam 95 

internal security also slowed the process. In this regard, Washington 
decided by the end of I960 to ensure military stability in the countryside 
before pressing Diem into democratic reforms. 

In contrast to its predecessor, the Kennedy administration acted quickly 
to adopt the plan for use in South Vietnam. Within weeks of his 
inauguration. President Kennedy "approved the general concept of 
implementing the CINCPAC outline plan" and authorized funding for a 
20,000-man increase in the South Vietnamese armed forces and improve- 
ment of the paramilitary forces.'" That the new administration considered 
this action important was indicated by Secretary of State Rusk's observa- 
tion to Admiral Felt that the "White House ranks defense Viet-nam 
among highest priorities U.S. foreign policy."'® 

On 13 February 1961, the comprehensive plan, based on the April 
I960 document, was submitted by U.S. authorities to President Diem for 
execution. Many provisions contained in the document had been or 
subsequently would be adopted by the South Vietnamese, but President 
Diem never completely endorsed or fully implemented all of its facets. 
The leader of South Vietnam also ignored many suggestions for reform of 
his government in the political and social spheres. Nonetheless, U.S. and 
Vietnamese leaders during I960 had come to recognize the critical nature 
of the Communist threat to internal security in South Vietnam, and they 
opted for unconventional measures to deal with the situation." 

Early Emphasis on Unconventional Warfare 

As a result of renewed interest in guerrillas and insurgency, the Navy 
gave increasing attention to unconventional warfare as a countermeasure. 
The Navy long possessed the capability, with its underwater demolition 

'^Memo, OP-60 to CNO, No. 55-61 of 3 Feb 1961. 

'^Msg, SECSTATE 02072 IZ Mar 1961. 

"t/.^.-KN. Relations, hk. 2, pt. IVA.5, tab 4, pp. 80-95; pt. IVB.l,pp. 3,9-ll;bk. 10, pp. 1325-26; 
bk. 11, pp. 13-16; Itrs, ASD (ISA), of 27 Sep 1960; CHMAAGVN to CINCPAC, of 3 Feb 1961; 
CINCPAC, Command History, I960, pp. 217, 230; memos, CINCPAC toJCS, ser 00331 of 30Jun 
1960; OP-605 to OP-06B, ser BM751-60 of 9 Sep; OP-61 to SECNAV, ser 00373P61 of 22 Sep; 
OP-61 to CNO, ser 00497P61 of 23 Nov; ser 000808P61 of 16 Jan 1961; OP-61 to SECNAV, ser 
00626P61 of 1 Feb; JCS, History' of the Joint Chiefs of Staff: The Joint Chiefs of Staff and the War in 
Vietnam, 1960-1968 (Washington: Historical Division, Joint Secretariat, JCS, 1970) (hereafter JCS, 
History), pt, 1, pp. 1-2, 2; Alfred G. Ward, transcript of interview with John T. Mason, Jr., U.S. Naval 
Institute, in Severna Park, MD, 1970-71, pp. 133-35; Spector, Advice and Support, pp. 361-73. 

96 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

teams, beach jumper units, and other forces, to prosecute unconventional 
operations, as already demonstrated during World War II and the Korean 
conflict. With the widespread perception that the Communist powers 
were intent on guerrilla warfare, subversion, and other forms of indirect 
aggression short of declared war, however, naval leaders considered using 
these resources in the Cold War. 

As early as 1958, Admiral Burke expressed support for the initiation of 
covert measures to keep the Communist powers off balance. Writing to 
Lord Mountbatten, British First Sea Lord, he stated: 

I think it is time that we are willing and have the capability to take other 
action. Our methods of countering Soviet moves, I personally think, 
have not been profitable .... It is time, I believe, that we give the 
communists an opportunity to counter a few moves [of ours] .... I am 
in favor of causing them a little anxiety in some of their peripheral areas, 
and I think it wouldn't be too difficult to accomplish. '° 

Two years later, the CNO observed that while "most people figure that 
[covert action] is under the cognizance of CIA and a good deal of it is... we 
are going to have to contribute and give it more emphasis in both our 
thinking and planning."-' In September I960, Admiral Burke added that 
he believed it "necessary that the Navy take the lead if our nation is to 
develop the new concepts and techniques which will be necessary to 
exploit our maritime advantage in the cold war."'" 

During the same month. Admiral Burke directed the Deputy Chief of 
Naval Operations (Fleet Operations and Readiness), Admiral Wallace M. 
Beakley, to study possible contributions by the Navy to unconventional 
warfare and to summarize what already was being done. Admiral 
Beakley's response indicated that the Navy then provided planning, 
transportation, and technical support of operations to the Assistant 
Secretary of Defense (Office of Special Operations). That organization 
had certain responsibilities for foreign covert operations in peacetime. He 
suggested that because of extensive training in small unit actions of this 
type, the Navy's underwater demolition teams and Marine reconnaissance 
units were the logical organizations for an expanded naval capability in 
unconventional warfare. To coordinate planning with the Office of Special 

^°Ltr, Burke to Mountbatten, of 15 May 1958. 

^'CNO, memo for record, ser 00389-60 of 11 Jul 1960. 

"Memo, CNO to OP-03, of 12 Sep 1960. 

Cotiiiterinsurgency. and the Growing Threat in South Vietnam 97 

Operations and to explore ways in which the Navy might further assist or 
participate in the conduct of covert operations, the admiral recommended 
the formation of a working group within the Office of the Chief of Naval 
Operations.^-' Accordingly, an Unconventional Activities Working Group 
was formally established on 13 September I960, under the direction of 
the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Plans and Policy). The group was 
directed to consider "naval unconventional activity methods, techniques 
and concepts which may be employed effectively against Sino-Soviet 
interests under conditions of cold war."^"* 

During this time, at the fleet command level, unconventional warfare 
training was not accorded a high priority, since commanders resisted a 
diversion of scant resources to tasks that were seen as peripheral. For 
instance, in October I960, the CNO informed CINCPACFLT, Admiral 
John H. Sides, that the Army's 1st Special Forces Group required carrier 
aircraft assistance for unconventional warfare exercises. The proposed 
training was to be conducted in three two-day periods each during Fiscal 
Years 1962, 1963, and 1964. Admiral Sides strongly objected to the 
Army request, and in recommending CNO's concurrence stated that Air 
Force units were available for such exercises, whereas "under present 
austere conditions, PACFLT can [not] afford these operations which do 
not directly support our primary mission. "^^ Admiral Burke, however, 
responded that unconventional warfare did constitute a proper mission for 
the Navy. Accordingly, he urged his Pacific Fleet commander to comply 
with the Army request for carrier participation in training, at least a few 
days each year. 

Nevertheless, the Navy's efforts in this lower spectrum of warfare 
during President Eisenhower's term in office were relatively modest. 
Further development of concepts and techniques to cope with the 
perceived worldwide threat from Communist-supported guerrilla wars 
and insurgencies required the stimulus provided by the Kennedy adminis- 

"Memos, CNO, ser 00389-60 of 1 1 Jul 1960; OP-03 to CNO, ser 109-60 of 12 Aug; OP-09 to 
OP-06, of 17 Aug. 

^''OP-06, memo, ser 0027 1P60 of 13 Sep 1960. See also memos, OP-605F to OP-09, ser 
00283P60 of 13 Sep; ser BM703-60 of 13 Sep; CNO to SECNAV, ser 00286P60 of 15 Sep; OP-06 
to CNO, ser BM00225-60 of 4 Oct. 

"Msg, CPFLT 232209Z Jan 1961. See also msg, CNO 182223Z Jan; memos, OP-03 to CNO, ser 
001515-61 of 27 Jan 1961; OP-03 to CNO, ser 001533-61 of 17 Feb. 

^"^Memo, OP-03 to CNO, ser 001533-61 of 17 Feb 1961; Itrs, CNO to Flag and General Officers, 
of 19 Jan, p. 19; CNO to Chief of Staff, U.S. Army, ser 001503P33 of 19 Feb. 

98 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

Adoption of the Counterinsurgency Doctrine 

President Kennedy for some time held that the Communist bloc would 
be likely to pursue a limited-risk global strategy of fomenting and 
supporting guerrilla war and subversion in areas of instability. During the 
I960 presidential campaign, he forecast that the Soviet Union's 

missile power will be the shield from behind which they will slowly, but 
surely advance — through Sputnik diplomacy, limited brushfire wars, 
indirect non-overt aggression, intimidation and subversion, internal 
revolution, increased prestige or influence, and the vicious blackmail of 
our allies. The periphery of the Free World will be slowly nibbled away. 
The balance of power will gradually shift against us. The key areas vital 
to our security will gradually undergo Soviet infiltration and domina- 

This view of Soviet intentions was reinforced after Premier Khrushchev's 
speech on 6 January 1961, delivered just fourteen days prior to Kennedy's 
inauguration. In this address, the Soviet premier proposed to foster "wars 
of liberation or popular uprisings... wholeheartedly and without reserva- 
tion," and he specifically mentioned Vietnam as an area for such 
operations. ^^ 

The continuing and increasingly threatening encroachment of the 
Pathet Lao guerrillas in Laos was detailed for Kennedy by outgoing 
President Eisenhower on 19 January. This briefing was followed by a 
pessimistic assessment of the situation in Vietnam, made by Brigadier 
General Edward G. Lansdale, USAF, Assistant Secretary of Defense for 
Special Operations and long an authority on Asia and guerrilla warfare, in 
a report read by the new president on 2 February. Lansdale had visited 
Vietnam from 2 to 14 January. He reached the conclusion that unless the 
Vietnamese mobilized all their resources and infused a new spirit into 
their counterinsurgency efforts, and unless the United States revitalized 
and reoriented its political, military, moral, and material support, "the 

^'John F. Kennedy, Strategy of Peace (New York: Harper and Brothers, 1960), pp. 37-38, 184. 

^"Quoted in Richard P. Stebbins, The United States ni WurU Affairs. 1961 (New York: Harper and 
Brothers, 1962), p. 64. See also Sorensen, Kennedy, p. 640; Schlesinger, A Thousand Days, p. 320; 
Thee, Notes of a Witness, pp. 16-26; Blaufarb, Counterinsiirgenn' Era, pp. 52-55. 

Counterinsurgency. and the Groivitig Threat in South Vietnam 99 

free Vietnamese and their government probably will be able to do no 
more than postpone eventual defeat."^' Echoing Admiral Felt's recom- 
mendation of the previous April, General Lansdale called for recognition 
of Vietnam as being "in a critical condition" and "requiring emergency 
treatment" and advised that the United States "treat it as a combat area of 
the cold war."^° 

The nature of the crises in Vietnam and Laos reaffirmed President 
Kennedy's conviction that the Communist bloc was embarked on a new 
course of action, in the worldwide Cold War, which took the form of 
unconventional warfare and political subversion and that demanded 
counteraction. President Kennedy's determination led Admiral Burke to 
suggest once again that the Navy "do as much as we can in guerrilla 
warfare... even if it is not our primary business." He proposed emphasizing 
UDT groups, escape and survival training, and the creation of a nucleus of 
young naval officers trained by the Army in guerrilla warfare.'' Other 
activities foreseen at this time by naval leaders included the sealift or airlift 
of troops and supplies, the conduct of sabotage and anti-shipping measures 
in foreign ports, river channels, and at sea, and the training of naval 
personnel in these skills. A number of naval leaders endorsed an 
improvement in the Navy's capability to conduct unconventional warfare 
at sea. Similarly, some believed that the fleet should support the Army's 
prosecution of counterguerrilla operations on land, a conclusion shared by 
the JCS. But direct naval participation in combat against land-based 
guerrilla forces was not considered an appropriate role for the Navy. That 
the Kennedy administration contemplated just such a mission, however, 
soon became apparent. *- 

On 23 February, in a meeting with the Joint Chiefs of Staff, President 
Kennedy again stressed the importance of guerrilla and counterguerrilla 
warfare as responses to Communist actions. This subject was first on a long 
list of problems to be dealt with by a planning group informally 

"Memo, Assistant SECDEF for Special Operations to SECDEF, of 17 Jan 1961. 

^"ibid. In Oct 1960, Admiral Felt wanted Lansdale assigned to Saigon as a special advisor to Diem. 

^'CNO, memo for record, ser 00086-61 of 6 Feb 1961, pp. 2, 3, 5. See also memo, Special 
Assistant to President for National Security Affairs to SECDEF, of 3 Feb in U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 1 1, 
p. 17. 

"Memos, OP-06, ser BM61 of 5 Jan 1961; CNO, memo for record, ser 0001 11-61 of 17 Feb; OP- 
60 to CNO, ser BM0002 10-61 of 21 Feb; OP-60 to CNO, ser BM 10 1-61 of 3 Mar; Itr, CNO to Flag 
and General Officers, of 14 Mar. 

100 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

established to review and update basic national security policy. The 
President urged the military services to expand and hasten their efforts to 
develop a strong, worldwide capability and to train friendly foreign 
personnel in the requisite skills. He was not satisfied with the performance 
of many government agencies and U.S. foreign missions in this respect. 
The President also suggested that the United States influence the SEATO 
Council to adopt the new counterguerrilla warfare concepts. Informally 
briefing Admiral Felt on the meeting, Admiral Burke closed his message 
to CINCPAC with the comment that "there is going to be an awful lot of 
guerrilla warfare training by U.S. forces all over [the] world, I'll 

Southeast Asian Crisis and the Bay of Pigs 

Events in April 1961 imparted a further sense of urgency to the effort 
to create stronger counterguerrilla forces in the armed forces. The crisis in 
Laos, which had become increasingly critical by the middle of April, was 
perceived by the national leadership to be the result of previous failure to 
adequately oppose Communist insurgency. By the end of April, the only 
feasible immediate response to the Communist encroachment would have 
entailed the use of U.S. regular forces. 

The disastrous outcome of the Bay of Pigs operation, which occurred 
between 17 and 19 April, had an even more dramatic effect on the 
Kennedy administration. On 20 April, the day after the fighting on the 
Cuban invasion beaches ceased, President Kennedy, in a speech to the 
American Society of Newspaper Editors, stated: 

Too long we have fixed our eyes on traditional military needs, on 
armies prepared to cross borders, on missiles poised for flight. Now it 
should be clear that this is no longer enough — that our security may be 
lost piece by piece, country by country, without the firing of a single 
missile or the crossing of a single border. We intend to profit from this 

"Msg, CNO 240133Z Feb 1961. See also CNO, memo for record, ser 000122-61 of 24 Feb 1961; 
Burke, memo, of 24 Feb; memos, OP-61 to SECNAV, ser 001602P61 of 1 Mar; OP-60 to CNO, 
BM 104-61 of 1 Mar; BM 1 2 1-61 of 10 Mar. 

Counterinsurgency, and the Growing Threat in South Vietnam 101 

lesson. We intend to reexamine and reorient our forces of all kinds — 
our tactics and our institutions here in this community.^"* 

Walt W. Rostow, Deputy Special Assistant to the President for National 
Security Affairs, reiterated the concept that the United States "must learn 
to deal overtly with major forms of covert Communist aggression" and 
added that "we must teach the Free World how to do it." He suggested 
diminishing the impact of the Bay of Pigs failure by directing attention 
toward Vietnam: "It is not simple or automatic that we can divert 
anxieties, frustrations, and anger [focused] on a place 90 miles off our 
shores to a place 7,000 miles away." But, "a maximum effort — military, 
economic, political, and diplomatic — is required there. ..urgently. ..and a 
clear-cut success in Vietnam would do much to hold the line in Asia while 
permitting us — and the world — to learn how to deal with indirect 

Several days later, the President directed General Taylor to head a 
study group composed of Admiral Burke, Attorney General Robert F. 
Kennedy, and Allen W. Dulles, the Director of Central Intelligence, to 
deduce the lessons of the Bay of Pigs. The group was specifically asked to 
explore ways of strengthening the U.S. capability in military, paramilitary, 
guerrilla, and anti-guerrilla activities short of overt warfare. During these 
deliberations. Admiral Burke proposed assigning the Department of 
Defense greater responsibility for paramilitary and guerrilla actions and 
suggested adopting the enemy's own techniques by pursuing guerrilla 
warfare in enemy-held territory. The CNO also called for the assistance of 
friendly governments fighting insurgency with U.S. forces and civic action 
groups. He gave as an example the deployment of "Naval construction 
units to assist in development of under-developed countries. Units such as 
these would serve as a nucleus for future para-military training."'^ 

After a thorough analysis of the Cuban affair, the four members of the 
study group presented their final report to President Kennedy on 13 June. 

'■'John F. Kennedy, "Address Before the American Society of Newspaper Editors, April 20, 1961," 
in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United Stales: John F. Kennedy, 1961 (Washington: GPO, 1962), p. 
306. See also CNO, memo for record, ser 000221-61 of 21 Apr 1961; U.S.-V'.N. Relations, bk. 2, pp. 
ii, 2, 6, 31-32. 

''Memo, Deputy Special Assistant to the President for National Security Affairs to SECSTATE, 
SECDEF, Director CIA, of 24 Apr 1961. 

""CNO, memo for record, ser 000269-61 of 16 May 1961. See also memo, Burke to Taylor, ser 
000275-61 of 20 May in memo, CNO to OP-06, of 20 May. 

102 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

They concluded that the United States was "in a life and death struggle 
which we may be losing, and will lose unless we change our ways and 
[marshal] our resources with an intensity associated in the past only with 
times of war."" The report's recommendations included a call for 
coordination and central direction of all U.S. military, paramilitary, 
political, economic, ideological, and intelligence resources to counter the 
Communist threat. On 28 June, the President approved the major 
recommendations of the group.'** 

Secretary of Defense McNamara echoed the deep concern of the White 
House with the worldwide course of events in a meeting on 21 April with 
the civilian heads of the military services and the Joint Chiefs of Staff 
called to discuss the implicadons of the Cuban situation. Admiral Burke 
reported that McNamara wanted to "find out what lessons were to be 
learned from this exercise. We would have to re-examine the whole 
business." The Secretary of Defense also stressed the need to "develop a 
national approach to indirect aggression .... We must have a plan for 
Laos and Vietnam." He doubted that an increase in conventional forces 
and weapons was the best solution to the problem but suggested instead 
that "we have to get some new ideas. What is required is a new idea on 
counter-aggression of the type that we are seeing around the world .... 
We need a major review of the whole problem."" 

Naval Guerrilla Warfare 

Although the Navy, to meet this newly perceived menace, already had 
taken limited steps to develop underwater swimmer propulsion devices, 
special parachutes, and survival kits and to enhance related training at 
naval schools, a number of officers in the Office of the Chief of Naval 
Operations felt the overall effort inadequate. One of these men, Vice 
Admiral Ulysses S. G. Sharp, Jr., the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations 
(Plans and Policy), observed that the Office of the "CNO has done litde, 
if anything, to increase the emphasis on counter-guerrilla warfare" and 
added that "since this type of operation is held in such high regard in high 

''Cuban Study Group, "Final Report to the President," of 13 Jun 1961, memo No. 4, p. 7. 
^^Ihid., memo No. 3, p. 3; memo No. 4, pp. 4-5. 

"Quoted in CNO, memo for record, ser 000221-61 of 21 Apr 1961. See also William W. 
Kaufman, The McNamara Strategy (New York: Harper and Row, 1964), p. 65. 

Counterinsurgency, and the Groiving Threat in South Vietnam 103 

places, we had better get going. "'*° 

A number of promising ideas, however, had been under consideration 
by one group since early March. On the 10th of that month, Rear Admiral 
William E. Gentner, Jr., the Director, Strategic Plans Division, approved 
preliminary recommendations by the Unconventional Activities Commit- 
tee (successor to the Unconventional Activities Working Group) that 
would involve the Navy more directly in this lower level of conflict. The 
group acted to "provide additional unconventional warfare capabilities 
within, or as an extension of, our amphibious forces" and "specifically 
adapted to particular country insurgency situations" in "restricted wa- 
ters."^' The committee recommended more emphasis on the conduct in 
these waters of assault landings, reconnaissance, patrolling, transport of 
troops and supplies, fire support, air support, and the infiltration and 
exfiltration of personnel. Specific proposals comprised a study of mine 
warfare techniques and devices, development of armament for small ships 
and craft, and review of measures to convert ships and craft for guerrilla 
warfare functions. 

Finally, an innovative approach to the naval aspects of guerrilla warfare 
was indicated in a recommendation for the establishment, under the 
Pacific and Atlantic amphibious commanders, of one unit each which 
would become "a center or focal point through which all elements of this 
specialized Navy capability [in guerrilla warfare] would be channeled." 
These proposed units, to be designated by the acronym SEAL, "a 
contraction of SEA, AIR, LAND... indicating an all-around, universal 
capability," initially would consist of from 20 to 25 officers and 50 to 75 
enlisted men. Each detachment would have a three-faceted mission: 

(1) develop a specialized Navy capability in guerrilla/ counterguerrilla 
operations to include training of selected personnel in a wide variety of 
skills, (2) development of doctrinal tactics, and (3) development of 
special support equipment.'*^ 

""Memo, OP-06 to OP-60, ser BM0098-61 of 29 Apr 1961. See also memo, OP-06 to JCS, ser 
00355P60 of 2 May. 

■"The geographical designation "restricted waters" was defined as including three components: ( 1) 
shallow coastal waters, (2) rivers and deltas, and (3) inland seas. Memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser 
BM002 86-61 of 10 Mar 1961. 

104 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

Thus, by the end of April 1961, the Office of the Chief of Naval 
Operations began to seriously consider the direct participation of the 
Navy in guerrilla and counterguerrilla warfare and the creation of units 
specially suited to that type of conflict. 

The April-May Crisis in Vietnam 

Between 27 and 29 April 1961, the deteriorating military position of 
the government forces in Laos compelled the U.S. leadership to make 
critical decisions regarding possible intervention into Southeast Asia with 
combat forces. With the chance that Laos might fall completely into the 
Communist sphere, thereby exposing South Vietnam's long border to 
overt aggression and infiltration from North Vietnam, U.S. leaders began 
to seriously consider the introduction of American forces into Vietnam. In 
fact. Admiral Burke felt that South Vietnam "would like to see U.S. come 
in, [and] in this connection put in special forces [and] part of a division.'"" 

On 1 May, an interdepartmental task force report contained proposals 
to support a two-division increase in the Vietnamese armed forces with 
two 1,600-man U.S. training teams, in addition to augmenting the current 
counterinsurgency training program with 400 Special Forces personnel. 
Of particular importance for the Navy, this report further recommended 
that U.S. naval forces be directed to mount a coastal patrol with a newly 
established Vietnamese paramilitary junk force from the Cambodian 
border to the mouth of the Mekong River. The object of the operation 
was to prevent seaborne infiltration into the Mekong Delta. To accom- 
plish this mission. Admiral Beakley suggested the use of 180-foot escorts 
(PCE) and coastal minesweepers (MSC) from the Atlantic and Pacific 
Fleets. He admitted that the ships were "not ideally suited because of 
speed and draft limitations but are the best available to handle the shallow 
waters around Vietnam. '"''^ The new course of events also required a 
review of contingency plans for deployment to South Vietnam of a Marine 
brigade and other conventional forces. 

'"CNO, memo for record, ser 00086P33 of 29 Apr 1961. See also msg, CNO 2921 15Z Mar; 
CINCPAC, Command History, 1961, pp. 184-85. 

■'''OP-33, memo for record, ser 00084P33 of 29 Apr 1961. 

Counterinsurgency, and the Growing Threat in South Vietnam 105 










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106 United States Naiy and Vietnam Conflict 

During the first week in May 1961, it became increasingly likely that a 
ceasefire would take effect in Laos and be followed by international peace 
negotiations at Geneva. These circumstances led Admiral Burke then to 
view the introduction of U.S. forces into South Vietnam as a way to deter 
Communist moves at a later date and to reassure U.S. allies and neutral 
countries throughout the world of American constancy. Many policymak- 
ers in the administration and among the military services were greatly 
concerned that the decision not to meet the Communist advance in Laos 
with a military response would be perceived by friend and foe alike as a 
lack of resolve. Admiral Burke was especially troubled that the "Commu- 
nists were taking our measure" and that the setbacks in Cuba and Laos 
would induce the Soviets to foment a crisis over Berlin and increase 
subversive activities throughout Africa, Latin America, and Asia.**' 

After Laos, the country believed to be in the most acute and immediate 
danger was Vietnam. Without greater support, the CNO feared that 
President Diem would lose confidence in the United States, which then 
would hinder the effort to defeat the insurgency. Even in February 1961, 
Admiral Burke feared that the United States "had lost valuable time with 
Diem and [we] have damaged his trust in us." Commenting on General 
Lansdale's report of his January visit to Vietnam, the CNO indicated his 
attitude toward the anti-Communist leader: "You know how I feel about 
our friend Diem — as I feel about any leader who strives for the cause of 
the Free World. Either we back him with our best (people, money, 
support) or we don't; there is no in-between. "^"^ 

Support for the involvement of U.S. forces also was strong within the 
Defense Department. A number of officials in the State Department and 
on the White House staff concurred in the need for such a step. But 
disadvantages inherent in this course of action were evident. The 
contemplated measures could be regarded as a breach of the Geneva 
accords of 1954, which prohibited the entry into Vietnam of military 

*^CNO, memo for record, ser 000243-61 of 4 May 1961. See also CNO, memo for record, ser 
000221-61 of 21 Apr; Burke/Ward, transcripts of taped conversations, of 3 May; 5 May; OP-33, 
memo for record, ser 00083P33 of 2 May; memos, Burke to Fontana, ser 000241-61 of 2 May; 
SECSTATE/SECDEF to President, of 3 May; Itrs, Burke to Bird, of 8 May, end.. 5; CINCPACFLT 
to CINCPAC, ser 32/01359 of 1 1 Aug; telecons, Wheeler to Burke, 0931 of 2 May; McNamara to 
Burke, 1907 of 2 May; Burke to Fontana, 1935 of 2 May; msgs, CNO 020015Z May; 021347Z;JCS/ 
OSD 022335Z; CNO 042107Z; 042233Z; CP 052130Z. 

""Ltr, Burke to Lansdale, of 14 Feb 1961. See also Paramilitary Study Group, memo for record, of 
26 Apr. 

Cotinterinsurgency, and the Growing Threat in South Vietnam 107 

forces, and also would unfavorably affect the Geneva negotiations on 
Laos, scheduled to begin on 12 May. Further, it was unclear whether 
President Diem, whose fervent nationalism was well known, would agree 
to the commitment of foreign troops. Perhaps the most important 
consideration was the belief that U.S. determination to back the South 
Vietnamese could be demonstrated in ways that would not commit the 
United States irrevocably. Accordingly, Secretary of State Rusk, at a 
meeting with Deputy Secretary of Defense Roswell Gilpatric on 5 May, 
concluded that "we should not place combat forces in South Vietnam at 
this time.'"*^ 

The issue, however, did not rest. The following Monday, 8 May, 
Gilpatric directed the JCS to reconsider the advisability of intervention 
and the size and composition of forces needed to execute it. The purposes 
for U.S. intervention continued to be the provision of "maximum 
psychological impact in deterrence of further Communist aggression from 
North Vietnam, China, or the Soviet Union, while rallying the morale of 
the Vietnamese and encouraging the support of SEATO and neutral 
nations for Vietnam's defense.'"** 

Admiral Felt, whose views were solicited, strongly opposed interven- 
tion in the war with U.S. forces. He had a number of reasons, including 
the absence of overt Communist aggression against South Vietnam and 
the undesirability of U.S. forces usurping Vietnamese responsibilities for 
conducting aerial surveillance, air-ground support, and coastal patrol. He 
further observed that the deployment of Pacific Command combat forces 
would destroy CINCPAC's operational flexibility. Felt also objected to 
the considered use of Army combat troops on a long-term basis rather 
than a "USMC Expeditionary Brigade," as called for in operational plans. 
In addition. Admiral Felt advised that if it was necessary to commit U.S. 
forces, "it should be with [the] intention of fighting .... Their deploy- 
ment under the guise of training would be a transparent subterfuge." He 
warned that the contemplated action "could commit the U.S. to another 
Korea-type support and assistance situation" and that "if we go in, we 

''''JCS, memo for record, of 5 May 1961. See also OP-33, memo for record, ser O0O83P33 of 2 
May; Burke, memo, of 3 May; CNO, memo for record, ser 000245-61 of 5 May; Itr, Burke to Bird, of 
8 May. 

"^JCS Paper 1992/978, p. 6. 

108 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

can't pull out at will without damaging repercussions."^^ Rear Admiral 
Henry L. Miller, who became the CINCPAC Assistant Chief of Staff for 
Operations the following year, later observed that "Admiral Felt's policy 
was to help the Vietnamese get organized, get trained, given the military 
equipment to fight their own war, but to keep U.S. troops out of that 
country. "'° 

Nonetheless, on 10 May, the JCS again recommended to Secretary of 
Defense McNamara that if the "political decision is to hold Southeast Asia 
outside the Communist sphere, the Joint Chiefs of Staff are of the opinion 
that U.S. forces should be deployed immediately to South Viet- 
nam... primarily to prevent the Vietnamese from being subjected to the 
same situation as presently exists in Laos."" Admiral Burke, in explaining 
to Admiral Felt the basis for the JCS decision, confirmed the latter's 
judgement that the action would in all likelihood commit the United 
States to the continued existence of South Vietnam. The CNO revealed 
his own views in a message to CINCPAC on 10 May: 

Where there are no U.S. troops in place, there is no will to send them 
when the going gets tough. We don't need a lot of troops in there but I 
feel strongly we do need [a] few organized units .... Decision to 
reinforce is more easily taken than essential decision to commit. We 
have missed the boat in Laos by not having foot in door.'^ 

Admiral Burke stated further: "Sorry I had to go against your [Admiral 
Felt's] recommendation South Vietnam but believe this only way to have 
U.S. take action other than similar to Laos."" Several days later, the CNO 
reiterated one of the primary reasons for the proposed steps with the 
suggestion that "what we really need is enough troops in Viet Nam to 
prove to Diem that we intend to stick by him and to keep his confidence in 
the United States up."'^ 

Admiral Felt supported the decision of the JCS, even though he still 
thought that "there is not sufficient justification to tie up forces which are 

"'Memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM000511-61 of 9 May 1961. See also memos, SECNAV to 
SECDEF, ser 000423P60 of 9 May; OP-60 to CNO, ser BM000268-61 of 10 May. 

^"Henry L. Miller, transcript of interview with John T. Mason, Jr., U.S. Naval Institute, in Patuxent 
and Annapolis, MD, 1971, Vol. II, p. 327. 

^'JCS Paper 1992/983, p. ii. 

^'Msg, CNO 1023 19Z May 1961. 

''"'Ihtd. See also msg, JCS 111802Z May 1961; msg, CNO 121413Z May. 

'"Msg, CNO \l\A\iT. May 1961. 

Counterinsurgency. and the Grourng Threat in South Vietnam 109 

now assigned to me." This concern was eased with the knowledge that the 
proposed ground troops would not be taken from the Pacific Command, 
but rather deployed from the United States. CINCPAC felt it "quite a 
different proposition when I can contemplate [being assigned] additional 
forces to me from" the United States." However, he believed that U.S. 
naval forces already were assisting the South Vietnamese Navy by 
deterring a large-scale Communist invasion by sea, and that this protection 
should not be extended to coastal patrol, which should remain a 
Vietnamese responsibility. He did suggest that a minimum number of the 
U.S. Navy's patrol craft be deployed to aid in training and developing an 
effective South Vietnamese coastal patrol, a proposal that was not 

The issue surrounding the introduction of U.S. forces into Vietnam 
became less crucial as the month of May wore on. In fact, it was academic 
when President Diem informed Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson, 
during the latter's visit to Vietnam from 11 to 15 May, and the new U.S. 
Ambassador, Frederick Nolting, on 27 May, that no foreign combat units 
were required short of overt Communist aggression.'^ 

The need to deter North Vietnam, China, and the Soviet Union from 
overt aggression also became less pressing as the ceasefire in Laos held and 
early negotiations in Geneva indicated that the country would not be lost 
entirely to the Pathet Lao. The determination to reassure President Diem 
of American support was satisfied by the dispatch of a new U.S. 
ambassador to Vietnam and the reported success of Vice President 
Johnson's highly publicized visit to the country, during which the 
Vietnamese leader was informed that the United States was "ready to join 
with you in an intensified endeavor to win the struggle against Commu- 
nism and to further the social and political advancement of Vietnam."'^ 

"Msg, CPFLT 112238Z May 1961. 

"^Msgs, JCS 111802Z May 1961; CPFLT U2238Z; CP 120544Z; CNO 121413Z; CPFLT 

^^Even earlier, in March, President Diem intimated his feelings in this regard, as related by Admiral 
Felt. He advised CINCPAC: "If open war breaks out and the U.S. has some idea of landing U.S. 
troops in N. Vietnam, we should reconsider .... We would have to buck a terrific psychological 
block — whites invading colored Asia. He recommends the use of S. Vietnam troops or even 
[Chinese Nationalist] Marines." Ltr, Burke to Bird, of 8 May 1961. See also memo, OP-61 to CNO, 
ser 00682P61 of 26 May. 

^'Ltr, Kennedy to Diem, of 8 May 1961 in U.S. -V.N. Relations, bk. 11, p. 132. See also memo, 
Lansdale to Gilpatric, of 18 May in Ibid., p. 157; bk. 2, pt. IVB.l, p. 66; memo, OP-61 to CNO, ser 
00682P61 of 26 May; CNO, memo for record, ser 000295-61 of 1 Jun. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 



Admiral Harry D. Felt, Commander in Chief, Pacific Command, bids farewell to Vice 
President Lyndon B. Johnson at Hickam Air Force Base. Hawaii, on 9 May 1961. The 
Vice President is enroute to South Vietnam. 

Although the Laos crisis temporarily focused attention on the possible 
direct use of U.S. forces, the Kennedy administration's interest in 
counterinsurgency as a response to "wars of national liberation" remained 
paramount. To develop a program for South Vietnam, the President 
appointed another interdepartmental task force, this one charged with 
studying measures to strengthen the political, military, and economic 
capacity of the South Vietnamese to prevent Communist inroads. The final 
report of the task force, labeled the "Presidential Program," was 
promulgated on 11 May 1961. It reaffirmed U.S. support for the survival 

Connterinsiirgency. and the Growing Threat in South Vietnam 111 

of the South Vietnamese government. The provision that the United 
States would "seek to increase the confidence of President Diem and his 
government in the United States" was the underlying assumption of the 
program.^'' While an increase in the South Vietnamese armed forces to 
170,000 and then 200,000 personnel, as well as the size and composition 
of U.S. forces for possible intervention were to be studied, counterinsur- 
gency warfare again was the primary theme. To prevent the Communist 
domination of South Vietnam, the United States would initiate "a series of 
mutually supporting actions of a military, political, economic, psychologi- 
cal and covert character . . . ."^° In the naval sphere, the program 
authorized "MAP support for the Vietnamese Junk Force as a means of 
preventing Viet Cong clandestine supply and infiltration into South 
Vietnam by water," to include training of junk crews at Vietnamese or 
U.S. bases.'^' 

Acceleration of the Navy's Effort 
to Prepare for Guerrilla Warfare 

As these developments occurred at the national level. Admiral Burke, 
early in May, took a significant step in broadening the Navy's probable 
future counterguerrilla role. On 3 May, in a seminal directive, he stated: 
"I know this is going to be difficult, but we are going to have to take over 
such operations as river patrol in the Saigon Delta, in the Mekong River, 
and other areas." Rivers and deltas, soon afterward, were separated from 
the term "restricted waters" and treated as unique operational environ- 
ments, reflecting the new emphasis on warfare on inland waterways.''^ To 
prepare for this eventuality, the CNO called for an increase in the training 
of naval personnel in guerrilla warfare and an appraisal of the Navy's 
equipment suited to the conduct of operations in the rivers and swamps of 
South Vietnam. 

^'Memo, McGeorge Bundy to SECSTATE, NSAM 52 of 11 May 1961 in U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 
11, p. 136. See also CINCPAC, Command History, 1961, pp. 172-74. 
■^"JCS Paper 1992/978. 

"Memo, CNO to OP-01, ser 00242-61 of 3 May 1961. See also memos, OP-60 to OP-90, ser 
BM00509-61 of 16 May; CNO to CINCLANTFLT, CINCPACFLT, CINCNAVEUR, ser 0048P34 
of 5 Jun. 

112 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

Soon thereafter, the CNO concurred with the specific proposals of his 
Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Fleet Operations and Readiness), 
Admiral Beakley, redirecting policy toward the actual participation of the 
Navy in counterguerrilla operations. In this regard, the Deputy Chief of 
Naval Operations advised that naval forces should be responsible for two 
general tasks. The first entailed the conduct of armed patrols on inland 
waters "to suppress either guerrilla activity or the resupply of enemy 
guerrilla forces" and "minor amphibious operations [in] waters within 
supporting range of the sea." The second mission consisted of supporting 
land warfare, "which is the primary responsibility of the Army" through 
the use of "water-borne forces on inland waterways for various purposes 
— patrol, protection of flanks, transportation of forces and logistic 

To implement many of the tasks envisaged in his memorandum, 
Admiral Beakley, reiterating the earlier 10 March Strategic Plans Division 
proposal, recommended that special operations teams (SEALs) be estab- 
lished as separate components of the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets underwa- 
ter demolition commands. These units were to provide a unique naval 
contribution to the fight against the armed Communist insurgent. The 
proposed SEAL mission statement remained basically the same as that 
drawn up in March, but more emphasis was placed on the actual conduct 
rather than support of combat operations. In the correspondence issued by 
the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Fleet Operations and Readiness) 
on 13 May, the new primary mission of the special operations teams was to 
"develop a specialized capability for the conduct of special operations in 
rivers, bays, harbors, canals, estuaries, and land areas adjacent to coasts. "''^ 
Of ten specific tasks to be assigned the proposed units, eight concerned 
the overt or covert conduct of operations, including attacks on enemy 
shipping, demolition raids on targets in close proximity to bodies of water, 
and the landing of men and material on hostile shores.''' 

Included in the numerous measures submitted in May to improve the 
Navy's capacity for counterinsurgency was a proposal to reorient the 

"Memo, OP-03 to CNO, ser 0043P34 of 13 May 1961. 

'^Ibid. See also Phillip H. Bucklew, transcript of interview with Oscar P. Fit2gerald, Naval 
Historical Center, in Washington, DC, 10 Jul 1978, pp. 49-55. 

''^Memo, OP-03 to CNO, ser 0043P34 of 13 May 1961. See also memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser 
BM00286-61 of 10 Mar; OP-60 to CNO, ser BM428-61 of 20 Jul; OP-06B toJCS, ser 00719P60 of 
28 Jul. 

Counterimurgency, and the Growing Threat in South Vietnam 113 

military construction mission of selected naval construction forces. In- 
spired by President Kennedy's call for measures to oppose "wars of 
national liberation," Lieutenant Commander Richard E. Anderson (CEC) 
and other officers in the Bureau of Yards and Docks and in the Office of 
the Chief of Naval Operations early in the year developed a concept based 
on the use of proposed SEABEE technical assistance teams (STATs). 
These specialized units could provide the people of threatened developing 
countries with technical training, engineering support, and construction 
assistance in their nation-building efforts. Rear Admiral Charles O. 
Triebel, the Director, Logistic Plans Division, adopted the idea. The 
admiral found that the Navy's STATs could represent an ideal counter to 
Communist-supported insurgency and infiltration of guerrillas, in that 
they could be deployed to threatened countries prior to the development 
of an internal crisis. This preemption would enable the United States to 
organize the indigenous population to resist Communist political and 
military incursions before the situation deteriorated. 

While the Army's Special Forces were generally recognized as combat 
troops who performed various paramilitary functions, the SEABEEs were 
seen as essentially construction and engineering personnel whose primary 
mission entailed non-combat duties. For this reason, naval construction 
forces could more readily be introduced to an endangered country to 
provide technical assistance, but indirectly to provide a military presence. 
Indeed, SEABEE units already had performed engineering and construc- 
tion tasks in the developing nations of Southeast Asia. Rear Admiral 
Triebel stated that naval construction forces personnel were "carefully 
selected, and given the proper training could become proficient in the 
field of guerrilla warfare." He recommended that "the utilization of 
Naval Construction Forces as Technical Assistance Units could then be 
coupled with a military mission to covertly and overtly oppose Communist 
aggression in assisting indigenous forces to resist by guerrilla warfare 
methods if necessary. "^"^ This proposed concept was approved by the 
Director, Strategic Plans Division soon afterward. 

In line with the reorientation of naval unconventional warfare missions, 
Admiral Burke recognized the need to adjust the functional organization 

•^"^Memo, OP-40 ro OP-60, ser 003107P40 of 16 May 1961. See also Tregaskis, Southeast Asia, pp. 
13-16, 20-25, 51; COMCBPAC, "Helping Others Help Themselves," of 13 Jan 1969, pp. 2-3; 
memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM428-61 of 20 Jul 1961. 

114 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

of the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. In May 1961, the CNO 
directed that the Office of the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Fleet 
Operations and Readiness) be given additional responsibility for guerrilla 
warfare readiness. Because the subordinate Amphibious Warfare Readi- 
ness Branch already was charged with unconventional and psychological 
warfare matters, this further task was delegated to that office. Its broad 
responsibilities included the monitoring of personnel training at service 
schools, in the fleet, and in military assistance advisory groups overseas, as 
well as the training of foreign personnel in friendly or allied nations. Also 
included was the development of tactical plans, concepts, and techniques 
for the prosecution of special operations. Navy Plans Branch personnel 
continued to exercise the strategic planning function and, in conjunction 
with representatives of the Amphibious Warfare Readiness Branch and 
the Flag Plot Branch, comprised a committee to coordinate guerrilla 
warfare planning and support within the Navy.''' 

Later in May, a response from Vice Admiral William R. Smedberg, III, 
the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Manpower and Naval Reserve), 
to Admiral Burke's request for information on the Navy's training 
programs in unconventional warfare indicated some reluctance to increas- 
ing naval activities in this sphere. Admiral Smedberg reported that 
because responsibility for guerrilla warfare rested with the Army, the 
Navy did not and should not have its own separate training programs and 
facilities.'''^ Admiral Burke could not concur with these conclusions. Only 
three days previously, on 16 May, during a luncheon conversation with 
Admiral Burke and others. President Kennedy stressed the necessity for 
increasing the guerrilla warfare training of foreign as well as U.S. forces. 
Accordingly, the CNO directed his deputy for personnel to prepare an 
"order to double training in [guerrilla warfare]."'''' 

Specific suggestions already had been proffered regarding increased 
guerrilla warfare training for naval personnel. Rear Admiral Centner, the 
Director, Strategic Plans Division, proposed that at least one naval officer 
assigned to a military assistance advisory group or mission in each country 
"with an existing or potential insurgency threat" be fully indoctrinated in 

^"Memos, OP-06B to OP-03B, ser BM393-61 of 5 May 1961; OP-03 to CNO. ser 0040P34 of 13 

**Memo. OP-01 to CNO, ser c23/00800-l of 19 May 1961. 

^'Memo, CNO to OP-01, ser 00242-61 of 3 May 1961 . See also CNO, memo for record, ser 
000269-61 of 16 May. 

Coim ten r2s urgency, and the Growing Threat in South Vietnam 115 

the ideological, political, economic, and sociological characteristics of 
insurgency. This would enable them to develop "an appreciation of the 
naval aspects and potential of [guerrilla activities in order] to assist in 
militarily eliminating the threat." Admiral Gentner suggested that these 
personnel attend pertinent Army courses of instruction, but "in the event 
U.S. Navy Special Operations units are estabhshed, specifically tailored 
training could be made available to selected personnel within Navy 
facilities." ° In line with the new responsibility for the "waterborne 
conduct of operations and support of guerrilla and other forces" in rivers 
and restricted waters, Admiral James S. Russell, the Vice Chief of Naval 
Operations, restated the need for SEAL cadres "to conduct training for 
selected U.S. and indigenous personnel in a wide variety of skills for use 
in clandestine operations and the support of same. "^' On 15 June, Admiral 
Russell directed the future formation of such groups within the underwa- 
ter demolition units of the Atlantic Fleet and Pacific Fleet Amphibious 
Forces. It was anticipated that training by SEAL detachments would 
constitute an important part of the Navy's program to provide instruction 
on the naval applications to guerrilla warfare.'^ 

By the end of July, the program to prepare more naval personnel in 
guerrilla warfare and related fields at naval and Army schools was ready 
for implementation. Personnel destined to man proposed special opera- 
tions teams and SEABEE technical assistance teams, MAAG and Mission 
instructors, and officers designated to fill relevant fleet staff planning 
billets were to receive varied training. Instruction would include such 
subjects as training administration, underwater operations, ranger, air- 
borne, and jungle tactics, communications, psychological warfare, intelli- 
gence, languages, and counterguerrilla warfare in general."' 

Another problem addressed by Admiral Burke in his memorandum of 
3 May, which suggested greater efforts on the part of the Navy to prepare 
for river and restricted water operations, concerned the selection of boats 
and craft, weapons, and equipment for the prosecution of guerrilla 
warfare. Impressed with the need for shallow-water craft, in addition to 

'"Memo, OP-60 to OP-lO/OP-62, ser BM00505-61 of 11 May 1961. See also memos, OP-01 to 
CNO, ser A232 of 2 Jun; OP-09 to OP-01, end. m memo, OP-01 to CNO, of 13 Jun. 

''Memo, OP-09 to OP-01 of 15 Jun 1961, end. in memo, OP-01 to CNO, of 13 Jun. See also 
memo, CNO to CINCLANTFLT, CINCPACFLT, CINCNAVEUR, ser 0048P34 of 5 Jun. 

'-'Memo, OP-09 to OP-01, of 15 Jun 1961, end. in memo, OP-01 to CNO, of 13 Jun. 

"^Ltr, OP-06B to JCS, ser 00719P60 of 28 Jul 1961. 

116 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

coastal patrol craft and special warfare equipment, Admiral Burke called 
for the accelerated development of suitable material. On 18 May, Admiral 
Burke directed the Bureau of Ships and the Deputy Chief of Naval 
Operations (Logistics) to study the problem of providing acceptable craft 
and "he emphasized the need for boats of many kinds and sizes for real 

To bring some organizational unity to the design selection and 
developmental process involving small craft and their armament, the 
Bureau of Ships, on 1 June 1961, established an Unconventional Warfare 
Equipment Coordinator. And, "because of the urgency of the situation in 
Viet Nam, great emphasis was placed on fulfilling Vietnamese require- 
ments."^' Later in June, a counterpart to this position was created within 
the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations. It was the Special Operations 
Section of the Amphibious Warfare Readiness Branch, which was 
designated the contact point for all unconventional warfare equipment, 
including small water craft. Captain Harry S. Warren headed this 
section. '^ 

In a further effort to improve coordination of the small craft procure- 
ment program, on 5 July the Chief of Naval Operations established a 
panel headed by the Chairman, Ship Characteristics Board, and composed 
of permanent representatives from the Office of the Chief of Naval 
Operations, the Bureau of Weapons, the Bureau of Ships, and the 
Headquarters, Commandant, United States Marine Corps. The Bureau of 
Naval Personnel, the Bureau of Yards and Docks, and fleet type 
commanders provided associate members on request and the Army also 
was invited to participate in the panel's deliberations. The body was 
charged with determining "the most suitable types of water craft for 
[guerrilla and counterguerrilla] operations... to meet the needs of the 
forces of both the U.S. and of military aid countries."" 

'■'OP-09, memo for record, of 18 May 1961. Of interest is Admiral Burkes recommendation that 
planners read Bernard Fall's Street Without Joy, which describes earlier French naval actions in 

"Memo, OP-06 to JCS, ser 001051P60 of 1 Nov 1961. See also memos, OP-414 to OP-09, ser 
BM00149 of 27 Apr; OP-09 to Chief, Bureau of Ships, ser 24P09 of 24 Jun; msg, CNO 182107Z 

"''Memo, OP-09 to Chief, Bureau of Ships, ser 24P09 of 24 Jun 1961; William H. Hamilton/ 
Richard Marcinko, transcript of interview with Edward J. Marolda, Naval Historical Center, in 
Washington, DC, 28 Feb 1984. 

''Ltr, CNO to Chairman, Ship Characteristics Board, ser 0432P42 of 5 Jul 1961. See also memo, 
OP-09 to Chief, Bureau of Ships, ser 24P09 of 24 Jun. 

Counterinsurgency, and the Growing Threat in South Vietnam 117 

One of the panel's first actions was to receive a report from a naval team 
which had just returned from South Vietnam. The group, composed of 
two naval officers and one civilian from the Bureau of Ships and an officer 
from the Bureau of Weapons, conducted a three-week informational tour 
of the country. During short stopovers in Hawaii, the team received 
additional data on Pacific area equipment requirements from CINCPAC 
and CINCPACFLT. The information acquired during this visit was added 
to the growing store of knowledge of the Navy's guerrilla warfare needs 
in Southeast Asia.^*^ 

In this regard, the CNO already had requested a list of equipment 
suited to the naval aspects of guerrilla warfare, then available or under 
development, and also a list of what was required to improve the Navy's 
material readiness in this area. In response to the CNO's directive, the 
various offices within the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and the 
bureaus with cognizance over related matters, as well as the Office of 
Naval Research, submitted a consolidated listing. The items then in supply 
or under development included: aircraft antipersonnel weapons; low-drag, 
general purpose, and fragmentation bombs; missiles; emergency landing 
material for air support of guerrilla operations; SCUBA gear; detonators 
and explosive devices; underwater communication equipment; antiperson- 
nel swimmer weapons; swimmer propulsion units for UDT operations; 
portable radios, radio and radar identification beacons; direction-finding 
equipment; jamming devices; and radio intercept units; moored mines for 
use against wooden or steel-hulled vessels; protective nets; river mine 
clearance devices; and survival kits, protective clothing, vaccines, insecti- 
cides, and repellants for operations in tropical climates. However, the list 
of new equipment needed to upgrade the Navy's ability to prosecute 
guerrilla warfare was almost as long. The items in demand included 
lightweight armor for protection against small-arms fire, air-to-surface 
weapons, mine detection and destruction devices, and aerial, land-mine 
laying equipment.^' 

"'Memos, OP-06B to JCS, ser 007 1960 of 28 July 1961; OP-06 to JCS, ser 00105 1P60 of 1 Nov., 
p. 5; COM7FLT, "Seventh Fleet Briefing for DOB RDT&E Limited War Study Group," ser 00029 
of 12 Jul. 

'5'OP-07B to CNO, ser 0036P07M of 2 1 Aug; CNO, memo for record, ser 000230-61 of 28 Apr 
1961; memos, CNO to OP-01, ser 00242-61 of 3 May; OP-07B to CNO, ser 0020P07M of 19 May; 
CNO, ser 0024P07M of 26 May; memo, OP-60 to OP-07, ser BM00659-61 of 21 Jun 1961; Itr, 
CNO to CINCLANTFLT, CINCPACFLT, CINCNAVEUR, ser 0048P34 of 5 Jun; Hamilton/ 
Marcinko, Interview. 

118 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

A Temporary Respite in Vietnam 

As the Navy prepared for guerrilla warfare during the late summer and 
early fall of 1961, the administration began to focus on Berlin, where U.S. 
and Soviet interests clashed sharply and an armed confrontation was a 
distinct possibility. Hence, the strength of U.S. conventional forces 
became a prime concern. While the situation in Europe grew more 
serious, the previous crisis atmosphere surrounding events in Southeast 
Asia subsided. Negotiations over Laos continued in Geneva, while the 
military situation remained relatively static. 

In South Vietnam, the insurgency still was critical but no climactic 
turning point loomed in the near future. Conversely, the armed strength 
of South Vietnam grew due to the increase of U.S. military assistance and 
Vietnamese manpower levels authorized in the Presidential Program. By 
mid-August, the South Vietnamese armed forces reached a strength of 
157,000 men, including 4,500 in the navy. President Kennedy then 
authorized U.S. support for a further increase to 200,000 men. Related to 
these developments was President Kennedy's decision to give first priority 
to the military effort to achieve internal security. Many U.S. leaders felt 
that these and other measures would enable the South Vietnamese to 
effectively deal with the Communist insurgency. ^° 

In this non-crisis atmosphere, unilateral activities by the United States 
Navy in South Vietnamese waters consisted primarily of port calls and 
other routine functions. For example, on 27 August Mine Division 93 's 
Leader (MSO-490) and Excel (MSO-439), under the command of 
Commander George A. Aubert, became the first ships of the United States 
Navy to make an official visit to Phnom Penh, Cambodia. The Seventh 
Fleet ships reached their destination without incident, after navigating 180 
miles of the Mekong River.^' 

At the same time, the U.S. national leadership explored new ways to 
complement the efforts of the South Vietnamese in their counterinsurgen- 
cy struggle. Of particular interest to the Navy were considerations by the 
Defense Department during July and August of instituting a naval 

""JCS, Htswryu pt. 1, pp. 2-16—2-24; U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 2, pp. 12, 58-71; bk. 1 1, pp. 239, 241, 
245-46; CINCPAC, Command History, 1961, pp. 176-81; COM7FLT, Itr, ser N12 of 9 Aug 1961; 
msg, JCS 15154 IZ Aug; memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM346-61 of 15 Jun. 

"'Msgs, ADMIN CPFLT 230334Z Aug 1961; ALUSNA Saigon 250245Z; COM7FLT 290952Z; 
CNO 111914Z Sep; Office of Public Affairs, DOD, "Press Release," of 24 Aug. 

Counterinsurgency, and the Grouing Threat in South Vietnam 119 


Commander George A. Auhert. Commander Mine Division 93 (left), and Commander 
Everett A. Parke, U.S. Naval Attache, Saigon, make an official call on Cambodian 
Defense Minister Lon Nol during the visit of the U.S. minesweeping unit to Phnom Penh in 
August 1961. 

blockade of North Vietnam. This action was contemplated primarily as a 
punitive measure for that nation's support of the war in the South. 
Proposals also were advanced for the establishment of air and sea patrols 
by U.S. naval forces to interdict North Vietnamese sea infiltration. 
Envisioned were patrols from the 17 th parallel southward along the 
Vietnamese coast and from the coast eastward to the Paracel Islands. 

CINCPAC was asked to submit his views on the proposals. Admiral 
Felt, as he had during the troop involvement issue of April and May, again 

120 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

recommended against the introduction of U.S. forces into Southeast Asia. 
He specifically cautioned against U.S. military retaliatory actions in the 
form of a naval blockade because he felt that it was "one thing for the 
South Vietnamese to take reprisal measures but quite another for the 
United States to do so." A naval blockade would indicate that the United 
States was "performing [a] belligerent act." The admiral advised against 
the augmentation of South Vietnamese coastal patrols with U.S. naval 
forces because he believed that Americans would not be as effective as the 
South Vietnamese in identifying infiltrating North Vietnamese boats. 
Further, Felt knew that President Diem remained adamantly opposed to 
the use of U.S. forces. The admiral also concluded that 

the best course at this time is to encourage and to assist the Vietnamese 
forces to develop further their own capabilities and to improve 
operational coordination .... Our objective is to develop South Viet- 
namese teamwork and an all-Vietnamese operation .... One of the keys 
to success in dealing with our Asian friends is to encourage and assist 
their own initiative.^' 

The JCS, in large part because of Admiral Felt's objections, deferred a 
decision on a U.S. naval blockade or patrols until further studies were 

The Navy's Guerrilla Warfare Program in the Fall of 1961 

With the administration increasingly distracted by the Berlin crisis and 
somewhat less concerned about developments in Southeast Asia, the 
program to expand the naval guerrilla warfare capability lost some 
momentum later in 1961. The new Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral 
George W. Anderson, Jr., also reviewed previous actions taken in this 
area. On 29 August, he specifically questioned the broadened role of the 
SEABEE technical assistance teams that suggested greater involvement in 
paramilitary activities by asking the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations 

*^Msg, CP 022210Z Aug 1961. See also msgs, CP 2701 12Z Apr; 250430Z Sep; JCS, History, pt. 1, 
pp. 2-18—2-19; memos, OP-605 to CNO, ser BM454-61 of 1 Aug; BM485-61 of 9 Aug; BM514-61 
of 19 Aug. 

Counterinsurgency, and the Growing Threat in South Vietnam 121 

(Logistics), "How far do we go in this business?"^' In response, Admiral 
Triebel stated: 

It is not intended that the Naval Construction Forces become actively 
engaged in aggressive paramiUtary operations, but more that these groups 
— Technical Assistance Teams, when deployed, possess the capabiHties 
required to extract a maximum of military value from their presence should 
the international situation and national aims so dictate.®'' 

Admiral Anderson then gave tentative approval to this wider use of the 
Navy's construction forces, although the concept was still subject to 
further study. 

A similar examination of the plan to establish SEAL teams as the Navy's 
primary counterguerrilla units led to the curtailment of this program. 
Admiral Anderson advised his fleet commanders in chief: "While it is 
desirable that naval capabilities in unconventional warfare and para- 
military operations be developed and exploited to full potential, particu- 
larly for employment during conditions short of the overt commitment of 
U.S. forces, current force requirements are of such magnitude that 
personnel resources are not available for immediate implementation."*^ 
Billets for 20 officers and 100 men continued to be a requirement, but 
pending the provision of additional personnel, naval commanders were 
encouraged to "enhance and augment present naval support capabilities in 
the area of paramilitary operations by developing the existing capabilities 
within the Underwater Demolition Teams for demolition, sabotage and 
other clandestine activities in order to complement the inherent uncon- 
ventional warfare capabilities of Marine Pathfinder and Reconnaissance 

At the same time, specialized training for naval personnel in other than 
the traditional naval aspects of unconventional warfare lagged. By the end 
of October 1961, only four officers, including the Navy Liaison Officer at 
Fort Bragg, the Assistant for Naval Aspects of Special Operations in the 
Amphibious Warfare Readiness Branch, and two officers from Underwa- 

^'OP-403E, memo, ser 003209P40 of 22 Aug 1961. 

^Memo, OP-04B to CNO, ser 003233P40 of 1 Sep 1961. See also COMCBPAC, "Helping 
Others Help Themselves," of 13 Jan 1969, p. 3. 

*^Ltr, CNO to CINCLANTFLT and CINCPACFLT, ser 0087P43 of 27 Oct 1961. See also memo, 
OP-06 to JCS, ser 00105 1P60 of 1 Nov. 

*'^Ltr, CNO to CINCLANTFLT and CINCPACFLT, ser 0087P43 of 27 Oct 1961. See also Itr, 
Chairman Amphibious Warfare Advisory Board to CNO, ser 0097P34 of 3 Nov. 

122 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

ter Demolition Team 2 1 , had attended or were attending unconventional 
warfare courses at the Army's Special Warfare Center. However, another 
crisis in South Vietnam would put renewed vigor into the Navy's guerrilla 
warfare effort. 

Autumn Crisis in Vietnam 

In late September Vietnam again began to draw attention. By that time, 
progress toward the creation of a strong, stable South Vietnamese 
government and society had virtually come to a halt. The military picture 
was even more discouraging. Alarming reports from Saigon indicated that 
the Viet Cong were on the offensive, initiating three times the number of 
attacks reported in earlier months. The State Department estimated that 
Viet Cong "regular" units increased from a strength of 7,000 men at the 
start of 1961 to 17,000 at the end of September. Increasingly large-scale 
and large-unit attacks appeared to be fueled by troops and supplies 
infiltrated through Laos from North Vietnam. 

At the end of September, President Diem revealed to the Kennedy 
administration that, as things stood, the South Vietnamese were unable to 
cope with the Communist insurgency. On 29 September, in a meeting at 
which Ambassador Nolting, Admiral Felt, members of the CINCPAC 
staff, and Lieutenant General Lionel C. McGarr, the new Chief, MAAG, 
Vietnam, were present, the South Vietnamese president requested a 
bilateral defense treaty with the United States to ensure the survival of his 
Asian country. And, contrary to his earlier views, he indicated that 
American forces now were needed in the struggle. The admission that 
Diem required direct U.S. military action was a telling indication of the 
critical nature of the situation. 

In recognition of the growing seriousness of the crisis in South 
Vietnam, the Vietnamese Independence Day celebrations, scheduled for 
26 October, were cancelled. A major feature of U.S. participation in the 
ceremonies was a planned port call to Saigon from 24 to 28 October by 
Seventh Fleet ships Coontz (DLG-9) and Bugara (SS-331). But, by this 
time, it was apparent to many U.S. officials that more dramatic actions 

Counterinsurgency, and the Growing Threat in South Vietnam 123 

were required to demonstrate U.S. support for South Vietnamese national 

The JCS viewed the recent developments in South Vietnam with alarm 
and called for strong action. On 5 October, the miUtary chiefs advised the 
Secretary of Defense that interim measures would no longer suffice to 
prevent eventual Communist domination of the area. They further 

Over a period of time, the Joint Chiefs of Staff have examined various 
alternatives to the solution of the problems of Laos and Southeast Asia. 
They have recommended certain military actions short of U.S. interven- 
tion which might have had the desired effect and could have altered the 
situation to our advantage. However, the time is now past when actions 
short of intervention by outside forces could reverse the rapidly 
worsening situation .... It is the view of the Joint Chiefs of Staff that, 
lacking an acceptable political settlement prior to the resumption of 
overt hostilities, there is no feasible military alternative of lesser 
magnitude which will prevent the loss of Laos, South Vietnam and 
ultimately Southeast Asia.** 

Thus, as was true in April and May, the introduction into Southeast Asia of 
U.S. combat forces again became a primary concern. The rationale for the 
proposed action continued to be protection of the South Vietnamese 
border from overt Communist attack; the denial of troop and material 
support for the insurgency by land, air, and sea; and the consequent 
freeing of South Vietnamese forces for counterinsurgency operations. 

The question of U.S. naval assistance in patrolling South Vietnamese 
coastal waters also was raised once again when the Assistant Secretary of 
Defense for International Security Affairs requested information on the 
legality, probable effectiveness, and influence on other missions of a 
combined Seventh Fleet-Vietnamese patrol. Admiral Anderson responded 
by stating that no legal restrictions barred the proposed action and that 
"naval patrols could effectively help to control infiltration by sea," 
especially with the use of the search radar on U.S. ships. But, the CNO 
added that "the assignment of destroyers or patrol aircraft from the 

^"Msgs, CPFLT 150048ZSep 1961; 162352Z; COMDESDIV162 08235 IZ Oct; memo, OP-61 to 
SECNAV, ser 00746P61 of 4 Oct. 

'*'*Memo, JCS to SECDEF, JCSM-704-61 of 5 Oct 1961 in U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 11, p. 295. See 
also /*/</., bk. 2, pt. IVB.l, pp. 63-76; JCS, Hisiory; pt. 1, pp. 2-22—2-24, 3-1; OP-60, memo for 
record, of 13 Sep; memo, OP-61 to CNO, ser 00752P60 of 19 Oct; msgs, CHMAAGVN 0I0905Z 
Sep; 030715Z; 100909Z; JCS 272221Z; CP 020711Z Oct. 

124 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Seventh Fleet for patrol action of this type would divert them from the 
principal threat which they are designed to counter, namely, that of the 
Soviet submarines," although "they are available for any purpose." The 
need for such an operation was in doubt, however, as indicated by the 
estimation of General McGarr that "Viet Cong infiltration is mainly 
overland through Laos" and that "the sea route is not used to any great 
extent to infiltrate military personnel or supplies." In any case, the CNO 
left the "details of carrying out an air-sea barrier... to the unified 
commander," Admiral Felt, who "would probably wish to augment the 
South Vietnamese junk force with suitable U.S. forces."^' 

The growing sentiment within the administration for direct U.S. 
military action against the insurgents was expressed on 10 October by 
Deputy Under Secretary of State U. Alexis Johnson, who stated that while 
a reduction of infiltration through Laos as the result of a political 
settlement "would materially assist the GVN in meeting the Viet Cong 
threat, there is no assurance that, even under these circumstances, the 
GVN will in the foreseeable future be able to defeat the Viet Cong." 
Because of this South Vietnamese inability to eliminate the insurgency, 
Johnson reasoned that the "real and ultimate objective [of U.S. forces 
was] the defeat of the Viet Cong... making Vietnam secure in the hands of 
the anti-Communist government" rather than the previously advanced 
concept of border and coastal surveillance. "Thus, supplemental military 
action must be envisaged at the earliest stage that is politically feasible. 
The ultimate force requirements cannot be estimated with any preci- 
sion .... Three divisions would be a guess. "'° 

The Taylor Mission to South Vietnam 

The crucial issue of intervention into Southeast Asia with U.S. ground, 
air, and naval forces was fully addressed the next day, 1 1 October, at a 
meeting of the National Security Council, with President Kennedy in 
attendance. Support within the administration, especially in the Defense 
Department, for such a measure was strong. Those in favor of the action 
included the CNO, Admiral Anderson. ''' Before reaching a decision, 

^'Merno, CNO to SECDEF, ser 0098 1P60 of 9 Oct 1961. 

'"f/.^.-KA/, Relatwm, bk. 2, pt. IVB.l, p. 78. See also Ihid., bk. 11, p. 312, 

"Memo, OP-601 to CNO, ser BM000673-61 of 26 Oct 1961. 

Counterinsurgency. and the Growing Threat in South Vietnam 125 

however, President Kennedy ordered his personal military representative, 
General Maxwell Taylor, to proceed to South Vietnam at the head of an 
interdepartmental group to evaluate the political and military feasibility of 
the proposed action. Alternative military solutions also were to be 
investigated, including the "stepping up [of] U.S. assistance and training 
of Vietnam units, furnishing of more U.S. equipment, particularly 
helicopters and other light aircraft, trucks and other ground transport, 
etc."'" Prior to departure of the Taylor mission, staff officers with the 
Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, and the military services 
provided the group with a compilation of twenty possible courses of 
action. In the naval sphere, suggestions ranged from speeding completion 
of the junk force construction program to accelerating funding for motor 
gunboat construction. Also to be considered was the provision of more 
and better river craft and the possible augmentation of the Vietnamese 
coastal patrol with Seventh Fleet ships.'^ 

During the latter half of October, General Taylor and his group 
conferred with high U.S. and Vietnamese officials and military officers on 
the status of the war. General Taylor reported that the situation was 
extremely critical and he observed a "deep and pervasive crisis of 
confidence and a serious loss of national morale" among the South 
Vietnamese resulting from successful Viet Cong attacks, a devastating 
flood in the Mekong Delta, and other demoralizing factors.'"' Nonethe- 
less, while President Diem appeared greatly concerned over the deteriora- 
tion of internal security and stability of his country, he now vacillated on 
the issue of introducing U.S. military forces into South Vietnam. The 
Vietnamese president requested that the United States assist his armed 
forces only with support elements, such as tactical aviation, helicopter 
companies, ground transportation units, and coastal patrol forces.'^ 

General Taylor's initial intention, buttressed by JCS recommendations, 
was to bring about the introduction into South Vietnam of U.S. combat 

'^Deputy Secretary of Defense, memo for record, of 1 1 Oct 1961 in U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 11, p. 

"/*/(/., U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 11, pp. 322-23; bk. 2, pt. IVB.l, p. 121; memo, OP-601 to CNO, 
ser BM000673-61 of 26 Oct 1961. 

^'*U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 2, pt. IVB.l, pp. 90-92. See also msgs, CP 180250Z; 200713Z Oct 1961; 
210441Z; CHMAAGVN 260347Z. 

^^U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 2, pt. IVB.l, pp. 15, 90-92; memo, OP-61 to SECNAV, ser 002049P61 
of 25 Oct 1961; msgs, AMEMB Saigon 132000Z Oct; CHMAAGVN 2007 13Z; AMEMB Saigon 

126 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

formations. In order to deploy these forces, the significance of which 
would be obvious, General Taylor advanced a unique proposal of General 
McGarr's. Instead of deploying units in a border security role, the 
president's military representative suggested dispatching a flood relief task 
force (eventually 6,000 to 8,000 men) to the inundated Mekong Delta 
area "for humanitarian purposes with subsequent retention if desirable. "''' 
At first, the force was to be composed primarily of engineer and 
construction, medical, quartermaster, ordnance, transportation, military 
police, and other support units. Infantry units would come later to protect 
the force. Also included would be a naval construction battalion and an H- 
34 light helicopter squadron from the Seventh Fleet, the latter to conduct 
aerial reconnaissance of the flooded area. In addition, the Seventh Fleet 
was to provide an attack cargo ship (AKA) with twenty-seven small boats 
and a landing craft repair ship (ARL).'^ 

While the Secretary of Defense, his deputy, Roswell Gilpatric, and the 
JCS favored the introduction into South Vietnam of sizeable U.S. forces, 
they opposed the flood relief task force idea as a half-measure. Others, 
such as Secretary of State Rusk, were concerned that any intervention 
would be disadvantageous to the United States. Admiral Felt, the 
commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific theater, also counselled against 
the proposed action. Reiterating his earlier opposition to the use of 
American forces, the admiral warned that it would renew charges of 
"white colonialism throughout the world, prompt Communist counter- 
measures on a like scale, result in a long-term deployment, and ultimately 
engage U.S. personnel in combat." He concluded that the disadvantages 
of the action "added up in favor of our not introducing U.S. combat forces 
until we have exhausted other means for helping Diem."'* Subsequently, 
Admiral Felt elaborated on this view. Although opposed to the introduc- 
tion of combat forces before attempting lesser measures, he stated that the 
action should not be ruled out "if their presence becomes necessary to 
keep [South Vietnam] from being overwhelmed." But, he added that "we 
have a wide range of U.S. military actions at our disposal which will not 

'^U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 2, pt. IVB.l, pp. 15-18. Taylor, in Michael Charlton and Anthony 
Moncrieff, Many Reasons Why: The American Intoltemeni in Vielnam (New York: Hill and Wang, 
1978), pp. 74-75, downplays the significance of the task force proposal. 

"'Msg. CP 200401Z Oct 1961. See also i.S-V.>^ Relations, bk. 2, pt. IVB.l, pp. 88-90, 122-23; 
msg, CP 040220Z Nov; CHMAAGVN 08002 IZ. 

'*Msg, CP 152015Z Nov 1961. 

Counterinsurgency. and the Growing Threat in South Vietnam 127 

kick off war with Communist China" and that the United States should 
"use forces flexibly in a way of our own choosing when their use is 

As a result of these many reservations, the final report of the Taylor 
mission, issued on 3 November, did not recommend the deployment to 
South Vietnam of U.S. combat troops. However, the team called for other 
means of increasing the U.S. military commitment. In order to demon- 
strate the resolve of the United States to stand by the South Vietnamese, 
one step proposed was the deployment of "some U.S. military forces" 
other than training and advisory personnel. In addition, a shift would 

in the American relation to the Vietnamese effort from advice to limited 
partnership [italics added]. The present character and scale of the war in 
South Vietnam decrees that only the Vietnamese can defeat the Viet 
Cong; but at all levels Americans must, as friends and partners — not as 
arms-length advisors — show them how the job might be done — not 
tell them or do it for them.'°° 

Specific courses of action in the naval sphere also were suggested by the 
Taylor group. These included assistance by the United States to "the 
GVN in effecting surveillance and control over the coastal waters and 
inland waterways, furnishing such advisors, operating personnel and small 
craft as may be necessary for quick and effective operation."'"' 

The issue concerning the composition and role of U.S. forces to be 
introduced into South Vietnam was resolved on 11 November, when 
Secretary of Defense McNamara and Secretary of State Rusk concurred 
with the recommendations of the Taylor mission. Although a decision to 
act on the report was not formalized until its promulgation as National 
Security Action Memorandum (NSAM) 111 on 22 November, the 
concurrence of his principal advisors led President Kennedy to take 
preparatory action. On 14 November, he directed Ambassador Nolting to 
inform President Diem that the United States was "prepared to join the 

''t/.5.-KN. Relations, bk. 2, pt. IVB.l, p. 102. See also Ibid., pp. 100-01, 110; memos, OP-06 to 
OP-60, ser BMOOOl 161-61 of 8 Nov 1961; OP-60 to CNO, ser BMOOl 168-61 of 9 Nov. 

'™0'.5.-KN. Relatiom, bk. 2, pt. IVB.l, pp. 96-97. See also CINCPAC, Command History, 1961, 
pp. 188-89; msgs, CHMAAGVN 130825Z Oct 1961; AMEMB Saigon 260330Z. 

'°'(7.i'.-KN. Relations, bk. 11, p. 400. See also Ihiti., pp. 359-66, 400-05, 419-21; msg. Naval 
Communications Station, Washington 160745Z Nov 1961; JCS, Hi'slor)', pt. 1, pp. 3-5 — 3-9. 

128 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Government of Viet-Nam in a sharply increased joint effort to avoid a 
further deterioration in the situation in South Vietnam and eventually to 
contain and eliminate the threat to its independence."'"^ 

Many factors contributed to President Kennedy's decision to limit the 
United States to an expanded supporting role. One was the danger that 
the Berlin crisis would lead to an armed confrontation in Europe which 
would command priority attention. The JCS repeatedly informed the 
President that a simultaneous commitment of U.S. ground, air, and naval 
forces to both Southeast Asia and Europe would require mobilization of 
additional U.S. reserves, with all of the political and military ramifications 
of such a move. On the other hand, the deployment of U.S. support forces 
would signal American resolve, while at the same time allowing the South 
Vietnamese to fight their own war. This step also was less likely to damage 
the precarious Laos negotiations or to provoke overt Communist attack. 

In other respects, a limited U.S. response was in keeping with the 
flexible response concept of the Kennedy administration, in view of the 
relatively modest force of Viet Cong guerrillas. The measure also was 
consistent with the President's evolving counterinsurgency theories that 
placed great emphasis on preparing and motivating indigenous popula- 
tions to deal with the Communist insurgencies. The war was meant to 
remain essentially a Vietnamese affair, despite U.S. initiation of a program 
of "limited partnership."'"' 

Thus, the involvement of the Navy and the other U.S. Armed Forces in 
South Vietnam's anti-Communist struggle increased dramatically during 
this period. Initially, in 1959, the most serious threat to the existence of 
Southeast Asia's non-Communist nations, especially South Vietnam, was 
seen as internal subversion and insurgency. Before 1961, neither the 
development of counterinsurgency concepts nor the particular nature of 
the situation in South Vietnam had a major impact on the United States 
Navy. But the response to Communist insurgency by the Kennedy 
administration motivated the Navy to give increased attention to its 
capability to engage in low-level conflict. The Laos and Bay of Pigs crises 

^"""V.S.-V.N. Relatwm, bk. 1 1, p. 400. See also Ihiii. bk. 2, pt. IVB.l, pp. 83, 98, 106; bk. 11, pp. 
295, 337, 344; memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BMOOOl 155-61 of 6 Nov 1961; CINCPAC, Command 
History, 1961, pp. 24-26. 

^°^U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 2, pt. IVB.l, pp. 133-37; bk. 11, pp. 400-18;JCS, History, pt. 1, pp. 3-2— 

Coiinterinstirgency. and the Groiving Threat in South Vietnam 129 

accelerated this effort. Thereafter, the Navy took steps to develop 
specialized SEAL and STAT units and related administrative organiza- 
tions. South Vietnam would become the testing ground for these forces 
and the counterinsurgency warfare doctrine in general. 


U.S. Military Assistance and the 
Vietnamese Navy 

From the end of the French Indochina War in 1954, the RepubHc of 
Vietnam received direct U.S. mihtary aid through the U.S. Military 
Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam. The MAAG's mission was to 
support the Vietnamese armed forces so that they could ensure internal 
security and offer initial resistance to a foreign invasion until the United 
States or the other SEATO nations came to their assistance. 

The Navy Section of the MAAG had the specific task of building up the 
Vietnamese Navy to conduct antisubmarine warfare (ASW), coastal 
patrol, and harbor defense against infiltration and minor naval threats. 
The naval force also was to be prepared to carry out river patrols in 
support of counterinsurgency operations and to undertake minelaying and 
minesweeping measures in the country's territorial waters.' Admiral 
Herbert G. Hopwood, the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, 
summarized the intended role of Southeast Asian navies, including 
Vietnam's, in a letter to Admiral Burke in March 1959: 

My basic concept is that the small indigenous navies are not and cannot 
be expected to become capable of offensive type naval operations other 
than having a limited capability for their own amphibious lift, local 
escort and patrol, limited local ASW, local mine warfare, and harbor 
defense. In short, they should be capable of taking over those local 
defensive missions which will allow us to keep the Pacific Fleet free, 
flexible and available to conduct the offensive missions whenever and 

'Memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser 253-63 of 30 Apr 1963. For information on the early years of the 
Navy Section, see Edwin B. Hooper, Dean C. Allard, and Oscar P. Fitzgerald, The Setting of the Stage to 
1959, Vol. I in series The United States Naty and the Vietnam Conjhtl (Washington: Naval History 
Division, 1976). 


U.S. Military Assistance and the Vietnamese Navy 131 

wherever they are required; thus maintaining the punch to counter local 
contingency actions while still retaining a ready... posture.^ 

One of more than fifty U.S. military assistance activities throughout the 
world, the MA AG in Vietnam formulated the aid program for the 
Vietnamese, administered deliveries, and advised the recipients on the use 
of the equipment. The first military aid programs for Greece and Turkey 
after World War II were planned and implemented by the individual 
services under the Mutual Security Act of 1947. Subsequent changes in 
the program soon concentrated more and more responsibility in the hands 
of the Secretary of Defense. With the establishment of the Office of the 
Deputy Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs (ISA) in 
1953, that office became the locus for military assistance decisionmaking. 
By 1959 the services merely provided the hardware and technical advice 
for programs which were shaped in ISA. The Joint Chiefs of Staff set the 
overall dollar amounts of military aid for each country and established 
general policy and force objectives. The MAAG drew up aid proposals 
and ISA gave final approval to the military part of the aid budget which 
then was submitted to Congress. The State Department handled economic 
aid, and although vested with overall responsibility for the entire aid 
program, generally delegated the details of military aid to the Defense 

In 1958, President Eisenhower appointed a committee headed by 
William H. Draper, an investment banker, to study the foreign aid 
program, which had become increasingly controversial. Draper's commit- 
tee, which included among its members Admiral Arthur W. Radford, 
former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, detailed a number of 
recommendations for making the system more responsive. Their report 
was submitted to the President in August 1959. President Eisenhower 
endorsed the Draper Committee recommendations and by the end of 
I960 most of them were implemented."" 

^Ltr, Hopwood to Burke, of 13 Mar 1959. See also CINCPAC, "Material for Discussion with the 
President's Committee on Military Assistance Programs (Draper Committee)," of 28 Jan 1959; msg, 
CP 172354Z Apr 1959. For an overview of the U.S. naval advisory effort, see Oscar P. Fitzgerald, 
"U.S. Naval Forces in the Vietnam War: the Advisory Mission, 1961-1965" in Robert W. Love, Jr., 
ed., Changing Interpretations and New Sources in Naval Histor)' (New York: Garland Publishing, 1980). 

'Harold A. Hovey, United States Military Assistance: A Study of Policies and Practices (New York: 
Frederick A. Praeger, 1965), pp. 139-41. 

Amos A. Jordan, Jr., Foreign Aid and the Defense of Southeast Asia (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 
1962), p. 60. 

132 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Some of the Draper Committee's ideas were incorporated in the 
Foreign Military Assistance Act of 1961. The military aid budget, which 
previously was appropriated separately, became a part of the overall 
defense budget. This measure was in recognition of the fact that military 
aid contributed to U.S. security in the same manner as did the armed 
forces. Long-range planning also was required. Beginning with the Fiscal 
Year 1962 program, military assistance requirements were projected five 
years into the future. Planning for the long term was particularly 
important, because the services had exhausted much of the surplus World 
War II equipment suitable for aid programs, and longer lead times were 
necessary to develop new hardware.' 

The new act also mandated important changes in the administration of 
the military aid program. Responsibility for overall direction of foreign 
aid, both military and economic, continued to rest with the State 
Department. On the military side, however, the 1961 act created a 
Director of Military Assistance, in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of 
Defense for International Security Affairs, who could devote full time to 
the administration of the program. This subordinate office reviewed the 
program proposals for the Secretary of Defense. 

In an attempt to make foreign aid more responsive to the needs of 
recipients, the task of drawing up the initial military assistance program 
was transferred from ISA to the unified commanders. CINCPAC, the 
unified commander for the Pacific theater, directed the MAAGs in his 
area to put together preliminary lists of these requirements. Working 
within Defense Department ceilings and JCS guidelines for force levels 
and objectives, the three service representatives attached to MAAGs in 
each country balanced priorities to reach agreement on a preliminary 
program. After approval by the ambassador, the aid requirements then 
were sent to CINCPAC headquarters in Hawaii where they were put into 
final form. At that time. Admiral Felt routinely solicited comments from 
each of the service representatives on his staff before reviewing the 
proposals himself. He then sent the program on to ISA in Washington, 
which obtained cost data, information on specific hardware, and delivery 
schedules from each of the military departments. After final approval by 

^The U.S. President's Committee to Study the United States Military Assistance Program, Composite 
Report (Washington: the Committee, 1959) (Draper Report). 

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ISA and the Joint Chiefs, and concurrence by the State Department, the 
Military Assistance Program was submitted to Congress/' 

The Military Assistance Advisory Group, Vietnam 

MAAG Vietnam at the beginning of 1959 was commanded by 
Lieutenant General Samuel T. Williams. He was relieved by Lieutenant 
General Lionel C. McGarr in September I960. Captain John J. Flachsen- 
har commanded the twenty-six-man Navy Section of the MAAG until 
Captain Henry M. Easterling relieved him in July I960. The small naval 
staff, including a senior Marine advisor, could do little more than process 
aid requests from the Vietnamese and draw up their navy's portion of the 
aid program. What actual advising they did accomplish was primarily at 
the Naval School at Nha Trang, where instruction concentrated on 
electronics, gunnery, navigation, damage control, and engineering. In 
addition to these men, 14 naval personnel and 2 Marines were assigned to 
the MAAG headquarters. Another 22 men served with the Temporary 
Equipment Recovery Mission (TERM), which was established in 1956 to 
salvage surplus American equipment left in Vietnam by the French. 
Finally, 15 individuals worked in an administrative section. In all, 79 naval 
officers and men, representing 9 percent of the roughly 700 U.S. military 
in Vietnam, were in-country at the beginning of 1959. Their number was 
commensurate with the Navy's 12 to 14 percent share of the overall MAP 
budget and was typical of most MA AGs around the world. ^ 

Both President Diem and U.S. officials in Saigon wanted an increase in 
the MAAG staff, maintaining that the legal strength of the MAAG under 
terms of the Geneva Agreement could be as high as 888 men, the 
combined number of French and U.S. advisors working with the 
Vietnamese at the end of the French Indochina War in 1954. U.S. policy, 
however, was to adhere to a ceiling of under 350 men in the MAAG, 
which was the number of U.S. advisors in Vietnam at the signing of the 

''Director of Military Assistance, DOD, "Military Assistance Manual, " of 15 May 1960; DOD, 
"Military Assistance Facts," of 1 May 1966; Joseph B. Drachnik, transcript of interview with Oscar P. 
Fitzgerald, Naval Historical Center, in Sacramento, CA, 25 Jan 1978; Malcolm C. Friedman, 
transcript of interview with Oscar P. Fitzgerald, Naval Historical Center, in Sunnyvale, CA, 24 Jan 
1978; USAF, "The Journal of Military Assistance," Sep 1961, Office of Air Force History, pp. 200- 

'NA Saigon, reports, 5-59 of 12 Jan 1959; 5-60 of 12 Jan I960; memo, OP-63 to CNO, ser 0222- 
63 of 25 Oct 1963; CNO, Joint Table of Distribution MAAG Vietnam, of 1 Jul 1959. 

U.S. Military Assistance and the Vietnamese Navy 135 

Geneva Agreement. In November 1959, the South Vietnamese govern- 
ment notified the International Control Commission (ICC), set up to 
oversee implementation of the Geneva Agreement of 1954, that TERM 
would complete its mission by 31 December I960. On 19 April I960, the 
ICC agreed to an increase in the MA AG to 685 men, which was about the 
size of the MA AG and TERM combined. Ambassador Eldridge Durbrow 
in Saigon called the ICC action the "most stunning diplomatic defeat 
suffered by DRV under Geneva Agreements for Viet-Nam."'^ 

The phaseout of the TERM began immediately and its personnel were 
absorbed by the MAAG. The disestablishment of TERM ended the fiction 
that the group was only recovering obsolete equipment. In fact, advising 
the Vietnamese on logistic problems had been its primary role since 
formal activation in 1956. After the reorganization, which was completed 
by the beginning of 1961, naval members of the MAAG totaled twenty- 
nine officers and thirty-four enlisted men, approximately the same number 
as in the combined MAAG and TERM before the merger. 

Despite the expansion of the group, General Williams believed that the 
MAAG "should and can work itself 'out of [a] job' with possible 
reduction [by] approximately 15% injune 1961 and approximately 20% 
reduction yearly thereafter."' These reductions, however, were not 
possible. Instead, in May 1961, as part of the Presidential Program, 
Washington authorized an expansion in the MAAG by 100 men, 
including 12 for the Navy. The additional naval personnel were to advise 
the newly established Coastal Force. This decision, the first to increase the 
number of U.S. advisors beyond the total authorized at Geneva, initiated a 
long series of increases in U.S. military force levels in Vietnam. '° 

The Vietnamese Navy 

At the beginning of 1959, the Vietnamese Navy was a modest force in 
comparison with the other services in the RVNAF. 5,100 men (1,500 of 

^NA Saigon, Joint Weekly Analysis, 17 of 23 Apr I960. Canada and India voted in favor of the 
expansion and Poland against. See Anita Lauve, The Origins and Operations of the International Control 
Commission in Laos and Vietnam, Rand study RM-2967 (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corp., 1962), pp. 85- 

'Quoted in U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 2, pt. IVA.5, tab 4, p. 81. 

'"Msg, CHMAAG Saigon 20071 IZ May 1960; memos, ISA to SECARM, of 12 Mar I960; Chief 
of Staff, MAAGVN to All Division Chiefs and Chief TERM, of 4 Apr 1960; MAAGVN, General 
Order No. 24 of 1 Jun 1960; CINCPAC, Command History, 1961, pp. 174-75; U.S.-V.N. Relations, 
bk. 2, pt. IVB.l, p. 29. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Organization of the South Vietnamese Navy 


Deputy Chief 
of Staff for Navy 

Chief of Staff 

Naval Staff 



(After Apr 1962) 

Operating Forces 

Sea Force 

River Force 

Shore Establishment 

Naval Stations 
and Schools 

Naval Supply 
Center Saigon 



Marine Corps 

whom were marines) were assigned to the service. The navy's two major 
combat components were the Sea Force and the River Force, which 
operated a total of 1 19 ships, boats, and landing craft of various types. The 
largest vessels were 5 173-foot submarine chasers (PC). 

The Vietnamese Navy was led by the Deputy Chief of Staff for the 
Navy, who in early 1959 was Commander Tran Van Chon. He served 
under the Chief of the General Staff of the Vietnamese armed forces. The 
chain of command then extended to the Secretary of State for National 
Defense and finally to President Diem. The naval head was not a member 
of the Joint General Staff, which was composed entirely of army officers. 
Thus, the navy had little influence in the high-level military decisionmak- 
ing process. The small role played by the navy partly reflected the fact that 
the maritime service then comprised only 3.4 percent of the armed forces' 
authorized personnel strength of 150,000 men. 

U.S. Military Assistance and the Vietnamese Navy 137 

To assist the Naval Deputy in his command function, a Chief of Staff 
coordinated the work of the Naval Staff, which consisted of Administra- 
tion (N-1), Operations (N-3), and Logistics (N-4) Departments. The 
Naval Deputy exercised direct control of the operating forces and shore 
establishments, which comprised the Sea Force, River Force, Marine 
Corps, Naval Supply Center, Saigon, and Naval Stations and Schools. The 
Commander Naval Stations and Schools, headquartered in Saigon, in 
addition to overseeing all training, exercised command of the facilities at 
Danang, Nha Trang, Vung Tau, and An Thoi. Each of these stations was 
the headquarters of a coastal district command, from the 1st Coastal 
District in the north to the 4th Coastal District in the Gulf of Siam. The 
coastal district commander controlled all naval forces operating within his 
section of coastline, both afloat and ashore." 

During the period from 1959 to 1961, the navy experienced modest 
growth. As part of the Presidential Program of May 1961, the United 
States agreed to support an additional 20,000 men in the Vietnamese 
armed forces, 200 of whom would be sailors. Shortly afterwards, 
however. President Diem requested that support for an overall figure of 
270,000 men be provided. Stepped-up Communist activity in Laos and 
South Vietnam that year gravely concerned Diem. The Kennedy adminis- 
tration shared his apprehension, but felt a total force of 200,000 men 
would be adequate. In August this latter force level was approved. By the 
end of 1961, the Vietnamese Navy's personnel numbered 4,497, of an 
authorized strength of 5,712.'- 

During this time, a number of newer ships were provided. The United 
States turned over to the South Vietnamese 1 PC, 1 PCE, 1 LSM (landing 
ship, medium), and 3 MSCs. Only the latter three ships were of recent 
construction. The others were built in World War II. However, these 
vessels replaced less capable units that had been retired from the active 
list. While the Vietnamese fleet did not increase in number, the newer 
ships were a qualitative improvement. 

The one-for-one replacement process was stipulated in the Geneva 
Agreement and U.S. naval advisors were not displeased with this 
restriction. A survey of long-range military assistance requirements, 

"CIA, National Intelligence Survey, "South Vietnam, Armed Forces," 1959, pp. 2, 31-32. 
'^NA Saigon, reports, 20-S-60 of 21 Sep 1960; 32-S-60 of 23 Dec 1960; U.S. -V.N. Relations, bk. 2, 
pt. IVB.l, pp. 29-30, 59-60. 

138 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

completed in October I960, concluded that the South Vietnamese did not 
have the ability to absorb great increases in strength. The U.S. Naval 
Attache noted at the end of 1961 that the problem did not appear to be 
the need for additional equipment and material but more efficient 
organization and use of available resources." 

Admiral Felt expressed a similar assessment during the visit of Nguyen 
Dinh Thuan to his headquarters in Hawaii on 1 April I960. Thuan, the 
Secretary of State for National Defense, requested a step-up in the 
delivery of ships scheduled over the next five years. Admiral Felt did not 
agree, however, because he reasoned that the existing rate of delivery was 
based on the limited Vietnamese ability to man and operate the ships. He 
also believed that the Vietnamese could make better use of the equipment 
they already possessed. For example, the admiral suggested that with some 
additional effort the number of ships on coastal patrol could be increased 
from an average of seven to eleven or twelve.'^ 

Small Boats for the Delta 

At the same time, the Vietnamese also requested special craft to operate 
on the flooded plains of the Mekong Delta. General Duong Van Minh, 
commander of the Army Field Command, sent a list of these requirements 
to Washington, prior to his visit in April 1960, which included the request 
for a swamp boat with a large propeller. It would be used by the army to 
lift troops into flooded Mekong Delta areas, particularly in the Plain of 
Reeds west of Saigon and in the U Minh Forest area on the southwest 
coast. In addition to shallow water, boats also had to contend with weeds 
and grass which choked the flood plains. The need for such a boat became 
apparent in I960 when the Viet Cong, using small motorized sampans, 
outmaneuvered a larger army force and defeated it soundly. The 
government troops could not pole their own sampans fast enough to 
evade the enemy nor effectively fire from their boats. The requirement 
for a shallow-draft boat was passed to the Bureau of Ships, and in the 
spring of 1960 the Landing Craft, Amphibious Boats Section recom- 

"NA Saigon, report, 87-59 of 16 Apr 1959; Naval Ship Systems Command, Military Assistance 
Program Ship and Craft Summary, Vol. I of 15 Oct 1966; NA Saigon, report, 23-S-60 of 9 Nov 1960. 
"Msg, CP 020430Z Apr 1960. 

U.S. Militar}' Assistance and the Vietnamese Navy 139 

mended a nineteen-foot rescue boat, with aircraft engines and propellers 
similar to those used on boats in the Florida Everglades. 

At a meeting between Admiral Burke and Secretary Thuan, during the 
latter's visit to Washington in April I960, the two discussed both the 
rescue boat and a turbo-powered boat to fill Vietnamese requirements. 
Subsequently, two of each of these craft were added to the Military 
Assistance Program and sent to Vietnam. The MAAG tested the boats, but 
in April 1961 reported that they were unsatisfactory. The turbo craft, 
although possessing good speed and shallow-draft characteristics, was 
deemed unsuitable because it was not sufficiently maneuverable and its 
water jets clogged easily. The air boats also were ill-suited for use in 
Vietnam and William H. Godel of the Advanced Research Projects 
Agency in the Department of Defense stated why: 

The continued insertion of standard American weaponry and standard 
American logistics over-complicates the maintenance and support prob- 
lem and consumes an inordinate amount of time of the American 
personnel .... There is, for example, no reason to introduce U.S. made 
air-boats into the Viet Nam fighting. These items are expensive, noisy, 
hard to maintain, and identify the rider to all Viet Cong who hear or see 
him for 100 miles around as an enemy to be shot on sight. '^ 

The subject of boats for the delta was raised again in a second visit to 
Washington by Mr. Thuan in April 1961. In a conference with Admiral 
Burke, Thuan observed that the craft which the U.S. had sent to Vietnam 
were indeed unsatisfactory. After the meeting. Admiral Burke asked the 
Bureau of Ships to expedite the analysis of more suitable shallow-draft 
boats for Vietnam. "If we take too long on this study and evaluation," he 
said, "their country may fall. An effective picket boat might mean the 
difference between success and failure of Viet-Nam.""" 

During the spring and summer, several other types of boats were 
considered. Captain Easterling suggested reevaluation of the Wizard, a 
twenty-foot, fiberglass runabout powered by a twenty-five-horsepower 
outboard engine. The United States provided the Vietnamese 300 of 
these craft at the end of the French Indochina War. Since then they had 
remained in storage at the Saigon Naval Shipyard. The Vietnamese Army 

"Memo, Director, Policy and Planning Div. to ISA, of 15 Sep 1960. 
"^Memo, CNO to OP-04, ser 0224-61 of 23 Apr 1961. 

140 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

declined Easterling's proposal because it sought a boat capable of speeds 
greater than the Wizard's maximum of 6 to 8 knots. 

On the other hand, the Zodiac boat, a French-made inflatable craft with 
an outboard engine, was deemed eminently suitable. At the end of 1961, 
125 of these boats were ordered for delivery. Another shallow-water craft 
finally adopted was the swimmer support boat. The thirteen-foot, fiber- 
glass craft was powered by a forty-horsepower engine. By August 1962, 
222 of the boats, constructed both in the United States and Saigon, 
operated in the delta.'" 

The Leadership Problem 

Of the many problems that beset the fledgling Vietnamese Navy during 
the period from 1959 to 1961, perhaps the most debilitating was the lack 
of sound leadership. It was a prime concern to U.S. naval observers. The 
U.S. Naval Attache in Saigon explained: "As in the past, the main 
shortcoming seems to be weak leadership down the line, caused by 
inexperience and a lack of 'espirit de corps.'"'* His diagnosis was not 
surprising, in view of the fact that the French did not relinquish their 
control over the Vietnamese Navy until 1955, and most of its officers, 
even the senior men, were only in their early thirties. 

Compounding the lack of experience was the instability at the top of the 
naval command caused in large part by political intrigue. On 6 August 
1959, Commander Ho Tan Quyen, then thirty-one years old, replaced 
Commander Chon as Acting Naval Deputy, when the latter departed for 
the U.S. Naval War College at Newport, Rhode Island. Many U.S. 
officers hoped that Lieutenant Commander Lam Nguon Tanh, who 
impressed them with his leadership ability, would get the job upon his 
return from the General Line School at Monterey, California. But political 

' MAAG Indochina, Monthly Activity Reports, Jun, Jul, Aug 1954; CINCPAC, Command History, 
1961, pp. 183, 194; ISA, "Briefing Book for Visit to U.S. by Sec State for the Presidency, Nguyen 
Dinh Thuan, on 5-6 Apr I960;" U.S.-V.N. Relatiom, bk. 2, p. 388; memos, OP-63 to CNO, ser 
00142-60 of 5 Apr 1960; OP-04 to CNO, ser 00237-414 of 21 Jun 1961; Burke/Townley/Gatacre 
Conversation, of 18 May 1961; memo, OP-06 to JCS, ser 001051P60 of 1 Nov 1961; msgs, 
CHMAAGVN 150725Z Sep; 240801Z Oct; 240935Z; 010341Z Nov; 280257Z Aug 1962; 
BUSHIPS 262232Z Oct 1961; 062140Z Nov; 02220 IZ Jan 1962. 

'"NA Saigon, report, 23-S-60 of 9 Nov I960. See also Itr, CINCPAC to CINCPACFLT, ser 0017 1 
of 16 Feb 1963. 

U.S. Military Assistance and the Vietnamese Navy 


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142 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

connections rather than abihty often influenced promotion. Although 
Diem stated publicly that Quyen, then the navy's Chief of Staff, was 
appointed to assure continuity of command, the fact that the officer was in 
the president's favor was a key determinant. The U.S. Naval Attache in 
Saigon observed that Quyen "has never appeared to be [of] above 
average intelligence, nor could he be called an educated person by 
western standards." The American officer, however, was hopeful: "He is 
a worker, and it is this drive which, regardless of the purpose behind it, 
will touch off a few much-needed fires under the local navy and thereby 
effect various improvements."'^ 

Little more than a year after assuming command, Quyen 's position was 
solidified as the result of a coup attempt against Diem. In the early 
morning hours of 11 November I960, a paratroop brigade commanded 
by Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Chanh Thi attempted to storm the 
Presidential Palace and overthrow the Diem government. As soon as the 
attack began. Commander Quyen ordered two marine companies to 
defend the palace and hurried there himself. His actions probably saved 
the government by giving the president time to rally his forces. 

In the meantime, elements of the Seventh Fleet, which had been 
assembled in readiness to respond to developments in Laos, speedily 
concentrated off the South Vietnamese coast prepared to evacuate 
American nationals. Fighting in Saigon was temporarily halted at noon. 
Negotiations with the rebels began that afternoon. A tentative agreement 
was hardly reached the next morning when the fighting broke out again at 
the Presidential Palace. By this time, however, loyal elements of the 5th 
and 21st Army of Vietnam (ARVN) Divisions arrived in Saigon and they 
soon forced the rebels to surrender.-" 

As a result of Quyen's actions, the prestige of the Vietnamese Navy and 
Marine Corps was at an all-time high. Quyen moved from a modest house 
in Saigon to a villa, complete with a sentry at the gate. Quyen's 
demonstrated loyalty to Diem also enabled the naval officer to retain his 
command for another three years. This fact alone was a boon to the 
developing Vietnamese Navy, which desperately needed continuity of 

"NA Saigon, report, 204-59 of 19 Aug 1959. See also NA Saigon.Joint Weekly Analysis, 29 of 18 

^°NA Saigon.Joint Weekly Analysis, 47 of 10 Nov I960; USAF, "Journal of Mutual Security," 
Dec 1960, Office of Air Force History, p. 149; Spector, Advice and Support, pp. 369-71. 

U.S. Military Assistance and the Vietnamese Navy 143 

Material and Maintenance Shortcomings 

The effect of leadership on material readiness was clearly revealed in 
the Vietnamese Navy. An evaluation in the spring of 1959 of ships in the 
Sea Force indicated that only four were even in fair material condition. In 
the River Force, fully half the vessels were down for repairs. Routine 
inspection reports by U.S. advisors at the end of 1959 on ships turned 
over to the Vietnamese highlighted the maintenance problem. The 
evaluations ranged from an overall very satisfactory to unsatisfactory. The 
inspecting officer of Long Dao (HQ-327), an LSIL built in 1944, noted 
that "the officers and men have pride in their ship and are showing an 
effort to make it one of the best in the fleet."-' Ham Tii II (HQ-114), 
commanded by Lieutenant Commander Chung Tan Cang, a future head of 
the Vietnamese Navy, also received a superior rating. The newly built 
MSC was transferred to the Vietnamese in July 1959. The crew took pride 
in the ship and worked to keep it in the same condition as when it was 
received. At the other extreme was Ninh Gang (FIQ-403), an LSM built 
in 1944 which saw heavy service during the French Indochina War and 
was turned over to the Vietnamese in 1956. "The overall condition of the 
ship is deplorable," read the report. "There is evidence of neglect 
throughout the ship's interior as well as exterior." Rust and dirt were 
everywhere, and some topside fixtures were corroded completely because 
of years of neglect. In one case, the cord to a fan was missing a plug and 
the bare wires were inserted directly into a socket.^- 

Lack of knowledge, initiative, and supervision on the part of many 
Vietnamese naval officers certainly contributed to the problem, but the 
poor material condition of the ships, most of which already were suffering 
from old age when the Vietnamese received them, discouraged all but the 
most diligent officers. Thus, the aid program often created excessive 
maintenance problems for the recipient nation. A report on Tuy Dong 
(HQ-04), a submarine chaser built in 1944, illustrated the point: 

The hull appears to have lost a lot of strength through years of 
corrosion. The holes that have [eroded] through have been patched, 
and at present there are no leaks. The thin sheet iron deck plates in the 

-'NA Saigon, repon, 14-59 of 19 Jan 1959. 

^^NA Saigon, repon, 15-59 of 19 Jan 1959. See also NA Saigon, reports, 113-59 of 9 May 1959; 
14-60 of 27 Jan 1960. 


United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 









U.S. Military Assistance and the Vietnamese Navy 145 

various compartments have reached a state where they are dangerous. 
The securing screws have [eroded] away, plates are warped and 
buckled, presenting a hazard for men to walk around the compartment 
in the local type of foot wear. 

The PC's commanding officer was Lieutenant Ho Van Ky Thoai, a 
competent and rising officer in the Vietnamese Navy. The report 
concluded that despite the deplorable condition of the ship, Lieutenant 
Thoai was making progress in preventing further deterioration.'' 

In December 1961 a CINCPACFLT survey team, headed by Captain 
Nathan Sonnenshein, completed its inspection of twenty-two ships and 
sixty-six boats of the Vietnamese Navy deadlined for repair in Saigon. Of 
the twenty-two ships, about two-thirds were rated in excellent to 
satisfactory condition, while the rest were rated unsatisfactory. The team 
found definite improvement, compared to similar inspections eight 
months earlier, in the material readiness of the ships. The group also was 
impressed with their cleanliness. The survey found that newer ships 
received more maintenance attention than the older vessels. Much of the 
improvement was credited to the efforts of the American naval advisors. ^'' 

Despite some progress in accomplishing routine shipboard mainte- 
nance, most Vietnamese commanders continued to rely almost exclusively 
on the shipyard. Until 1959 all major overhauls were performed by the 
U.S. Navy at Subic Bay. Thereafter, the Saigon Naval Shipyard began to 
do most of the major repair work for the Vietnamese Navy. 

The Saigon Naval Shipyard was the largest of its type in Southeast Asia, 
with the exception of the facilities in Singapore. The yard had existed at its 
location on the Saigon waterfront since the mid-19th century, when 
France established its Arsenal there for support of the Far Eastern Fleet. 
By the early 1960s, it was the largest industrial plant in South Vietnam, 
with eighty-seven concrete buildings, consisting of a foundry, boat repair, 
structural, carpenter, instrument, diesel engine, ordnance, electronics, 
electrical, and machine shops, warehouses, and administrative offices. In 
addition, the fifty-three-acre site contained a 520-foot graving dock, a 
119-foot graving dock, a 1 ,000-ton-capacity floating drydock, and four 

-'^NA Saigon, report, 103-60 of 14 May 1960. See also NA Saigon, report, 20-59 of 24 Jan 1959; 
NAG, Staff Study, "Naval Craft Requirements in a Counterinsurgency Environment," of 1 Feb 1965; 
Ho Van Ky Thoai, transcript of interview with Oscar P. Fitzgerald, Naval Historical Center, in 
Washington, DC, 21 Sep 1975. 

-'■•Msgs, CHMAAGVN 120917Z Dec 1961; CP 130506Z. 

146 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

marine railways. These facilities and their seven mobile, gantry, and 
floating cranes enabled the shipyard to service all but the largest ships. ^' 
Since command of the Saigon Naval Shipyard was one of the most 
desirable positions in the Vietnamese Navy, top Vietnamese naval officers 
were assigned to the billet. Nevertheless, poor planning and supervision 
by the lower echelons resulted in long delays in scheduled overhauls. For 
example, the submarine chaser Chi Lang (HQ-01) spent twenty-one 
months in the yard but still had work to be done after she was released at 
the end of 1959-^'^ To alleviate the backlog, some overhauls continued to 
be scheduled for the U.S. Naval Ship Repair Facility, Subic Bay. This was 
the case with six LCMs transported from Saigon on board USNS Core (T- 
AKV-41) in mid-December 1961. A proposal to station one of three 
Seventh Fleet repair ships at Saigon, however, was rejected. A survey 
team of the U.S. Navy found that such a ship would use only 20 percent of 
its capacity due to the type of work required on the relatively small 
Vietnamese ships. On the other hand, U.S. naval officers were confident 
that an increase in the number of advisors from five to seventeen at the 
shipyard would enable the Vietnamese to rectify the situation." 


One long-term solution to the leadership and maintenance problems in 
the Vietnamese Navy was better training. The principal training center of 
the naval service was based at Nha Trang. Here Lieutenant Commander 
Bang Cao Thang, at the beginning of 1959, commanded a staff of 14 
officers and 204 enlisted men. Advising him was a detachment of three 
American naval officers and six men. The Nha Trang facility included a 
recruit school, Class A schools offering specialized classes, and the 
Vietnamese Naval Academy. As one example, a recruit class of 103 
students completed their four weeks of basic training in March 1959 and 
the graduates were assigned to Class A schools in such specialties as 
engineering, communications, clerical work, electronics, seamanship, 
damage control, and logistics. These schools lasted from one to six weeks. 

-'CINCPACFLT. report, ser 73/0023 of 9 Jan 1962. 

^•^■NA Saigon, report, 12-60 of 27 Jan 1960; LeRoy R. Hagey, Jr., End of Tour Report, of 30 Mar 
'"Msgs, CP 030625Z Dec 1961; CPFLT 040508Z. 

U.S. Military Assistance and the Vietnamese Navy \Al 

When the Naval Academy's eighth class of forty-five midshipmen 
graduated on 2 April I960, the Vietnamese pointed with pride to the fact 
that this class was the first to be completely trained by Vietnamese 

Training was not exclusive to the classroom. Off Vung Tau between 22 
and 24 July 1959, for example, two submarine chasers conducted 
underway training, which included gunnery, shipboard drills, and battle 
problems. The embarked U.S. naval advisors observed the operation and 
offered suggestions on improving procedures, particularly damage control 
and gunfire techniques.'' 

Formal training at Nha Trang and operational exercises by the River 
and Sea Forces was augmented by training of Vietnamese naval personnel 
in the United States. During Fiscal Year I960, forty Vietnamese officers 
and sixty enlisted men received such instruction. Officers were sent to 
both the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, and to the Naval 
Postgraduate School in Monterey, California. The Fiscal Year 1961 
Military Assistance Program called for the training of 406 men of the 
Vietnamese Navy at facilities in the United States. In addition, the MAAG 
requested training of Vietnamese on board Seventh Fleet ships for short 
periods of time. The proposal was approved and implemented in the Fiscal 
Year 1961 aid program. Some of the best instruction was received by 
Vietnamese crews who picked up new ships in the United States and sailed 
them to South Vietnam. 

In early May 1961, Commander Quyen proposed that Vietnamese 
naval officers be sent to five European countries, Japan, Canada, and 
Australia, in addition to the United States. He criticized instruction given 
to his officers in American schools as too basic and limited to data on 
equipment currently in the Vietnamese Navy. Instead, the commander 
suggested that his naval officers receive training in shipbuilding, engine 
manufacturing, metalwork, hydrography, atomic propulsion, and weapons 
manufacturing in order to make the Vietnamese Navy self-sufficient and 
free of U.S. control. The U.S. Naval Attache in Saigon concluded, 
however, that such a goal was beyond the technical and industrial 
capability of the Vietnamese at that time. Furthermore, the attache 

'*NA Saigon, report, 52-59 of 27 Feb 1959; Le Ba Thang, transcript of interview with Oscar P. 
Fitzgerald, Naval Historical Center, in Arlington, VA, 19 Sep 1975, pp. 1-4. 
^'NA Saigon, report, 192-59 of 31 Jul 1959. 

148 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

believed that Quyen was using the plan to attract the favorable attention 
of his superiors. In the end, the unrealistic nature of the program doomed 
it to rejection by the Vietnamese Department of State for National 
Defense. Consequently, only one officer received training in a country 
other than the United States through 1961.'° 

Another Quyen proposal was for the establishment of a UDT capability 
within the Vietnamese Navy to improve protection for ships, piers, and 
bridges. U.S. naval advisors initially recommended against the idea 
because they believed the Vietnamese Marine Corps was charged with 
that responsibility. Later in I960, however, the Vietnamese turned to 
Taiwan for UDT training. The Vietnamese naval officer and seven men 
who completed this course subsequently formed the nucleus of the Lien 
Doc Nguoi Nhia (LDNN), or literally, "soldiers who fight under the sea." 
This Vietnamese underwater demolition unit was formally established in 
July 1961. The naval force was authorized forty-eight officers and men 
and given the mission of removing underwater obstacles, protecting 
military ports, and mounting special operations in waterways. '' 

The River Force 

As with this training, the operations of the Vietnamese Navy were 
oriented toward accomplishment of its dual mission of defending the 
country against overt external aggression and maintaining internal securi- 
ty. Because the first responsibility had top priority before 1959, the River 
Force, primarily operating on inland waterways, was not the favored 
branch of the service. As the U.S. Naval Attache explained in 1959, "they 
play a definite second fiddle to the sea forces," which steamed along the 
coast and out to sea." With the increase of Viet Cong activity in 1959 and 
I960, however, U.S. and Vietnamese naval officers devoted greater 
attention to the River Force. 

'"Ltrs, Williams to Burke, of 1 1 May 1960; Hopwood to Burke, of 24 May; Griffin to Hopwood, of 
31 May; Hopwood to Burke, of 9Jun; Burke to Hopwood, of 18Jun; CINCPACFLT to CINCPAC, 
ser 61-00740 of 26 Aug; Bang Cao Thang, transcript of interview with Oscar P. Fitzgerald, Naval 
Historical Center, in Arlington, VA, 21 Aug 1975, pp. 4-7; Ho Van Ky Thoai, Interview. 

"Peter W. Willits, End of Tour Report, of 29 Feb 1964; Nguyen Van Due, transcript of interview 
with Oscar P. Fitzgerald, Naval Historical Center, in Hayfield, VA, 4 Dec 1976, pp. 2-3. 

"NA Saigon, report, 1 13-59 of 9 May 1959. See also ONI, "Report from Vietnam," ONI Review 
(Oct 1962), pp. 437-39. 

U.S. Military Assistance and the Vietnamese Navy 149 

This Communist guerrilla activity was concentrated in the Mekong 
Delta region of South Vietnam, the most populous part of the country. In 
mid-1959, President Diem described the southern provinces as "in a state 
of siege. "^' The MAAG agreed with the South Vietnamese conclusion 
that the situation in the delta was worse than it had been in 1954 or 1955. 
It also was evident that the Vietnamese Navy's River Force, which 
patrolled the waterways, and transported troops and supplies, had a critical 
role to play in restoring security to the area. Because few roads traversed 
the area, the 1,500 miles of waterway was the most important network for 
travel and commerce. 

From his headquarters, recently moved from Saigon to the delta city of 
Can Tho, the River Force commander in 1959 controlled ninety-six boats 
and craft, organized into five river assault groups (RAGs). Each RAG 
could support a battalion in the field for up to fourteen days. The river 
assault groups, each containing approximately 2 officers and 100 men, 
were located at My Tho, Vinh Long, Saigon, Can Tho, and Long Xuyen. 
The RAGs rotated between one month of operations and one month of 
training. During the training period, an Underway Training Group of six 
officers and fourteen enlisted men from Saigon offered lectures and 
specialized instruction. The remainder of the training period was spent in 
overhauling boats. '"^ 

Individual RAGs operated nineteen boats, mostly modified World War 
II U.S. landing craft. In each RAG one commandament, an LCM-6 with 
the bow ramp replaced by a pointed steel prow, served as a command ship 
and provided communications and gunfire support during operations. The 
RAGs also contained one monitor, which was similar to the commanda- 
ment but possessed more firepower. Its armament included one 40- 
millimeter cannon, two 20-millimeter cannons, one 50-caliber machine 
gun, and an 81 -millimeter mortar. The troops and supplies were carried 
by five LCMs and twelve LCVPs and STCANs. Only the highly 
maneuverable STCAN, left over from the French era, was especially 
designed for river operations." 

"NA Saigon, report, 18-S-59 of 7 Aug 1959. 

"NA Saigon, report, 113-59 of 9 May 1959. 

'^The STCAN also was called a vedette, the French equivalent of a patrol boat. The boat also was 
known as a FOM, which is the French acronym for the French shipbuilding company which designed 
and built the craft. Richard T. Gray et al., "Revolutionary Warfare on Inland Waterways: An 
Exploratory Analysis," Naval Ordnance Test Station, China Lake, California, Jan 1965, pp. 228-40. 

150 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

The main operational area of the River Force was the Mekong Delta 
where the RAGs and the four battalions of the Vietnamese Marine Corps 
sought out the enemy. At one time during 1959, for example, 6 LCMs, 4 
LCVPs, 2 vedettes and several marine ground units conducted assaults in 
An Xuyen Province. Another 2 LCMs and 2 LCVPs patrolled the 
Cambodian border region near Chau Doc, while 1 LCM and 2 LCVPs 
operated on the Tranh Dong River in the Rung Sat swamp below Saigon. 
At the same time, 2 LCVPs operated near a Vietnamese Army fuel depot 
upriver from Saigon. Although by I960 the Marine Corps was assigned to 
South Vietnam's strategic reserve with the army's airborne formations, 
individual battalions continued to work with the navy. In addition, the 
River Force mounted numerous operations with the army. In 1961, for 
instance, joint army-navy actions numbered twenty-seven.^'' 

In October I960, the River Force assumed the added responsibility for 
escorting convoys laden with charcoal from Nam Can and rice from 
Camau, Rach Gia, Chau Doc, and Bac Lieu in the Mekong Delta to 
Saigon. On occasion, the Viet Cong virtually cut off Saigon from these 
vital staples. The River Force commander allocated 18 STCANs, 4 LCMs, 
and 8 LCVPs to a command which became the River Transport Escort 
Group. The unit escorted an average of six to eight round-trip convoys 
per month. During 1961, the navy assisted in transporting over one 
million tons of cargo from the delta. The Communists harassed the 
convoys a number of times, and in five instances set off mines, but none of 
the transports suffered appreciable damage that year. 

Even before receiving the additional burden of the new convoy support 
assignment, the River Force suffered from a shortage of personnel to fully 
man its vessels. In December I960, the manning level of boats was more 
than 50 percent below the requirement. For that reason, the combat 
effectiveness of the River Force was reduced. Commander Quyen 
recommended a future increase in the navy's total personnel, but in the 
interim he transferred men from other parts of the navy to the River 
Force. In I960, the five river groups were authorized 602 men, but had 
only 340 on board. By March 1961, primarily through Quyen 's efforts, 
the total rose to 422, which represented some improvement. Admiral Felt 
discussed the problem with President Diem during CINCPAC's 29 
September 1961 visit to Vietnam. Still, in October U.S. advisors reported 

'^NA Saigon, reports, 113-59 of 9 May 1959; 23-S-60 of 9 Nov I960. 

U.S. Military Assistance and the Vietnamese Navy 151 

that the River Force remained 30 percent under strength.^' 

The River Force was not used to its maximum potential. Naval advisors 
felt that a shortage of personnel was one explanation for this problem, but 
there were other reasons as well. Because the army seldom included naval 
officers in planning for operations, the River Force contingent often was 
concentrated at the last minute, which limited the number of boats 
available. The small group employed for the mission was thus more 
vulnerable to attack by even modest Viet Cong forces. And because only 
the landing craft, utility (LCU), LSILs, and the LCM monitors and 
commandaments were equipped with adequate communication equip- 
ment, calling for reinforcements sometimes was difficult. 

Similarly, the army feared the devastating effect on their units of a 
successful Viet Cong mining attack. Mining assaults usually followed the 
tactics used by the enemy during the French Indochina War. A command- 
detonated mine would stop the lead boat dead in the channel and then the 
enemy would rake the stalled convoy from the banks of the waterway. The 
River Force attempted to counter these tactics with crude but effective 
minesweeping devices, which consisted of grapnels dragged behind 
LCVPs, or cables strung between two LCVPs, to cut the detonation wires. 
No minesweeping precautions were taken on 25 November I960, 
however, when an LCM was mined near the village of Hau My in Dinh 
Tuong Province. This operation began when the army regional 
commander, without soliciting naval advice, ordered the River Force to 
transport an army battalion from Tay Ninh to a position on the edge of the 
Plain of Reeds. About 1800, as the three LCMs, loaded with 150 men 
each, approached Hau My on the Hai Muoi Tam Canal, an explosion rent 
the air. Its force lifted the lead LCM out of the water, stove in the 
bulkheads near the bow ramp, and caved in the roof over the tank deck. 
The men seated in the tank deck were thrown against the overhead, their 
gun muzzles punching holes through the wooden planking. Gunfire from 
both sides of the canal struck the force. The LCMs replied with their 20- 
millimeter guns. The boats then beached on the left bank and disem- 
barked their troops. More firing came from a strong enemy force 100 
meters from the canal. After a ten-minute firefight, the enemy withdrew 

"NA Saigon, report, 20-S-60 of 21 Sep 1960; msg, CHMAAGVN 260347Z Oct 1961; Itr, 
NAVSEC to CHMAAGVN, ser 001 of 6 Jan 1961; memo, Taylor to Craig, of 24 Oct; Chung Tan 
Gang, transcript of interview with Oscar P. Fitzgerald, Naval Historical Center, in Arlington, VA, 31 
Jul 1975, pp. 42, 46. 

152 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

and the South Vietnamese counted their casualties. Eight men were killed 
and twenty-three seriously wounded, mostly by gunfire.'^ 

In July 1961 the River Force played a more successful role in the largest 
and most productive operation against the Communists since 1954. The 
operation, named Dong Tien, took place in Kien Phong Province in a 
marshy area of My An District. It was bordered on the north by the Dong 
Tien Canal, on the south by the Thap Muoi Canal, on the east by the Tu 
Moi Canal, and on the west by the Mekong River. The area long had been 
a Viet Cong stronghold. On the morning of 14 July, river craft and army 
artillery units took up positions along the Thap Muoi and Tu Moi Canals 
and began blasting enemy camps. During that night other River Force 
units landed a paratroop battalion along the Dong Tien Canal, and at 
dawn the troops began to advance south to the village of My Qui. When 
the surrounded Communists tried to escape north, they ran into the 
paratroopers. The enemy force finally was crushed in a six-hour battle on 
the morning of the I6th. The 502nd Viet Cong Battalion and a company 
from the 504th Battalion sustained 167 men killed, 11 captured, and 85 
weapons lost. After the operation, the forces involved returned to Saigon 
for a hero's welcome. General McGarr, the MAAG chief, later com- 

The operations in the delta area which were successful were preplanned 
set-piece operations. Plenty of time was given to their planning and 
moving into position and tactical surprise together with superiority of 
force was gained. Even though the planning, movement to contact and 
actual operations were surprisingly well done, errors were committed 
which could have caused failure. In these operations, the Viet Cong in 
some instances were either cooperative enough or forced by encircle- 
ment to stand and fight in larger groups against stiff opposition — which 
is not their tactic. The reorganization of the Armed Forces with the 
single chain of command and the progress we have made in our training 
over the past ten months in developing joint operations gave these 
divisions the capability to fight the set-piece battle.'^' 

'"Ltrs, NAVSEC to CHMAAGVN, ser 001 of 6 Jan 1961; CINCPACFLT to CINCPAC, ser 32/ 
00693 of 9 Aug 1963. 

"rfe Times of Viet Nam Magazine, Vol. Ill, No. 28 (22 Jul 1961 ), end. in NA Saigon, report, 168- 
61 of 3 Aug 1961. See also NAVSEC Joint Weekly Analysis, 29 of 16 Jul 1960; Itr, McGarr to 
Lemnitzer, of 12 Oct 1961. 

U.S. Military Assistanc and the Vietnamese Navy 


Vinh Chau 

1 Jul 1961 Operation 

Dong Tien 

2 Ambush 25 Nov 1960 

South China Sea 

Cua Lon 
Ong Trang ',^7 ^ 
Cape Camau 

Bo De River 

Son Islandy^ 

Mekong Delta 
The Sea Force 

At the beginning of 1959, the Sea Force, headquartered in Saigon, 
consisted of 5 PCs, 4 LSMs, 7 LSILs or landing support ships, large 
(LSSL), 3 auxiliary motor minesweepers (YMS), and 1 light cargo ship 
(AKL). These ships were divided into three groups plus a reserve group, 
with theoretically one group in upkeep, another in training, and the third 
in operations. In practice, however, because of delays in overhaul 
completions and routine upkeep, plus lack of initiative on the part of Sea 
Force commanders, some two-thirds of the ships were out of commission. 

154 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

The other ships could barely meet operational commitments, which 
included six-week patrols by a PC or LSSL/LSIL in the Danang area and 
an LSSL/LSIL off Phu Quoc. Another ship served six weeks of duty as a 
training vessel at the Naval School in Nha Trang. The same Underway 
Training Group which served the River Force also provided training for 
the crews of two other ships. ^° 

The PCs and LSSL/LSlLs were the backbone of the patrol force. The 
173-foot submarine chaser, with a crew of fifty-four, had a range of over 
5,000 miles at a speed of 10 knots. Its armament of one 3-inch/ 50-caliber 
gun; one 40-millimeter gun; four 20-millimeter guns; and one 60- 
millimeter mortar was more than a match for any seaborne infiltrator, and 
also was effective against shore targets. The shallow draft of both the PC 
and LSSL/LSIL allowed them to operate close inshore, particularly in the 
shallow waters of the Gulf of Siam. The 160-foot LSSL/LSIL was capable 
of carrying sixty to seventy combat-equipped troops and could operate on 
the rivers of the Mekong Delta, as well as the open sea. 

Although the Sea Force concentrated on coastal patrol, it also provided 
logistic support to garrisons on Phu Quoc Island, transported prisoners 
and supplies to the military prison on Son Island, and carried marines to 
garrison the Paracel Islands. In all, during 1961 the Sea Force transported 
10,000 men and 5,000 tons of cargo. The navy also assisted the Certeza 
Surveying Company of the Philippines in a survey of all islands in the Gulf 
of Siam claimed by the Vietnamese.^' 

Usually the resupply missions were routine, but on 8 August 1961 an 
operation by Long Dan almost ended in disaster. While beached and 
unloading cargo 300 yards from the Duong Dong Light on Phu Quoc 
Island, the ship broached in the surf and was driven hard aground. The 
LSIL listed badly and was completely out of the water at low tide. 
Following several unsuccessful attempts to pull the ship free with a 
submarine chaser, a small tug, and other landing craft, the South 
Vietnamese, on 15 August, requested U.S. help. Lipan (ATF-85) and 
Reclaimer (ARS-42) were dispatched to the Gulf of Siam to salvage the 
LSIL. On 24 August, after thirteen attempts, Lipan pulled the vessel off 
the beach and refloated her.'*^ 

^"NA Saigon, report, 20-59 of 24 Jan 1959; msg. CPFLT 302026Z Nov 1961. 
■"NA Saigon, report, 23-S-60 of 9 Nov 1960. 

"^SERVPAC, Command History, 1961; msgs, NA Saigon 151150Z Aug 1961; CHMAAGVN 
191508Z; CTF73 200056Z; NA Saigon 200500Z. 

U.S. Military Assistance and the Vietnamese Navy 155 

Most Vietnamese Sea Force operations were uneventful throughout 
1959, I960, and 1961, but operations in the Paracel Islands proved to be 
an exception. Since 1954 the Vietnamese had maintained a small garrison 
and weather station on Pattle Island in the Paracel group about 230 miles 
east of Danang. In 1956 the Chinese Communists, who also claimed the 
Paracels, established a colony on Woody Island, fifty miles from Pattle. In 
February 1959, when reports reached Vietnam that the Chinese had sent 
fishermen to occupy Duncan Island as well, LSSL No Than (HQ-225) 
sallied from Danang to verify the reports. The Vietnamese feared that the 
Chinese were attempting to assert sovereignty over the islands by 
colonizing them. Five additional ships plus a company of marines joined 
No Than. The marines landed on Duncan Island and captured thirty-one 
prisoners, who were transported to Danang for interrogation, and then 
returned to the Paracels. The Chinese protested sharply, but South 
Vietnam was determined to press its claim to the islands. "*' 

Aside from the psychological and strategic importance of the Paracels, 
which lay adjacent to the shipping lanes between Southeast Asia and the 
Far East and Japan, the islands also contained rich deposits of guano 
fertilizer. Early in 1959 a Vietnamese commercial group made plans to 
exploit the deposits. In April the navy transported the businessmen to the 
Paracels to study the feasibility of the venture. The first shipments of 
guano arrived in South Vietnam by November 1959 in Vietnamese 
merchant ships.'*'' 

The main tasks of the Sea Force were interdiction of Communist 
infiltration from North Vietnam, intracoastal enemy traffic, and smug- 
gling along the 1,200-mile coastline. Communist seaborne movement 
from the North was the chief worry, and the most difficult to verify. But, 
periodically, hard evidence of enemy activity was uncovered. In one such 
instance, in the spring of 1961, a Vietnamese naval vessel on patrol near 
Danang stopped a suspicious junk. One of the South Vietnamese 
recognized a man on the junk who had been missing from the local area 
for some time. Upon questioning, the suspected individual confessed that 
he and his four fellow sailors were involved in a maritime infiltration 
effort. Several of the men admitted that they were officers in the North 

"'NA Saigon, report, 7-S-59 of 3 Mar 1959; memos, OP-61 to CNO, ser 029P61 of 19 Jan 1959; 
ser 039P61 of 27 Feb; USAF, "Journal of Mutual Security," May 1959, Office of Air Force History, 
p. 154. 

■*^NA Saigon, reports, 85-59 of 13 Apr 1959; 253-59 of 30 Nov. 

156 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Vietnamese People's Army, while the others identified themselves as Viet 
Cong. Nguyen Chuc, leader of the group, revealed that he had 
participated in seventeen seaborne missions since June 1959. 

Through the testimony of this group and other information, the 
organization of the Communist maritime infiltration effort became better 
known. Since 1959, it appeared that the North Vietnamese used two 
organizations for maritime infiltration into South Vietnam. One was 
political, being attached to the Lao Dong Party (the Communist Party of 
North Vietnam), and was in contact with party cadre and intelligence 
agents in the South. This organization operated about eight three to four- 
ton sail boats, with five-man crews, which blended in with local fishing 
junks. Each boat made about one trip a month, except during the bad 
weather between August and December, when they could not operate 
because of their small size. 

The other organization was the 603rd Battalion of the North Vietnam- 
ese People's Army, headquartered at Quang Khe, fifty-five miles north of 
the Demilitarized Zone. The unit transported military supplies and 
personnel to the South. This battalion was manned by about 258 men, 
most of whom were southerners with some experience as seamen. One of 
the battalion's three companies stockpiled supplies to be infiltrated, a 
second built and maintained the boats, and the third manned the boats on 
missions to the South. By 1961, the Communists had available for 
infiltration of men and supplies by sea about ten small fishing boats with 
crews of six each and equipped with radios and machine guns.^"* 

In light of the information available, U.S. intelligence agencies 
concluded at the end of 1961 that "only a small percentage of Viet Cong 
support comes by junk traffic, and that this mode is used more to infiltrate 
agents, couriers and instructions."^'' General McGarr estimated that 25 
percent of the Viet Cong force was infiltrated from the North, and that 
only about 1 percent of these men came by sea. Ambassador Nolting also 
concluded that "infiltration of arms as well as personnel by sea continues 
to be relatively small as available information indicates. """" 

''^A Communist history of the war relates that from 1959 to 1961 maritime infiltration was 
controlled by Group ''59. directly under the North Vietnamese General Staff, and that no major 
effort was mounted. See Socialist Republic of Vietnam, \'ietnam: The Anti-L.S. Resislame War, p. 32. 
See also State Department, Threjl to the Peace, p. 34. 

"""Memo, Craig to Taylor, of 24 Oct 1961. 

"■'Msgs, AMEMB Saigon 3:I1PM 10 Oct 1961. See also msg, 3:12PM 10 Oct; Director Far East 
Region ISA, memo for record, of 20 Dec 1961. 

U.S. Military Assistance and the Vietnamese Navy 157 

The Sea Force did not have adequate resources to control even low 
levels of sea infiltration from outside of Vietnam, or Viet Cong movement 
along the coast within South Vietnam. It was almost an impossible task to 
detect the handful of infiltrators mingling with the 10,000 junks which 
plied the South Vietnamese coastal waters each day. The Sea Force could 
deploy one or two ships at the 17th parallel and in the Gulf of Siam, which 
were the most vulnerable areas, but they could not patrol off all the 
countless landing spots along the 1,200-mile coastline. It was not 
surprising that the U.S. Naval Attache in Saigon could not rate the Sea 
Force as even "moderately effective" in controlling sea infiltration. In his 
analysis, "there is too much coastline, too many junks, too few patrol craft, 
and inadequate authority to prevent the junks from doing almost as they 
please." On the last point, the Sea Force commander complained that his 
ships were prohibited from even firing on suspected infiltrators because 
the government feared inflicting friendly casualties.''® 

At the end of 1961, Admiral Felt observed that the Vietnamese needed 
to concentrate on deploying more ships on the line. Of the twenty-one 
ships in the Sea Force at the end of the year, only eight or nine were 
operational and only one actually was on patrol. He explained that the low 
utilization rates were caused by a "lack of preventive maintenance, by 
slow shipyard work and by poor operational planning and complete lack 
of command drive. "■*' 

Establishment of the Coastal Force 

Vietnamese officers and their U.S. advisors also thought of new ways to 
control coastal traffic. Even though the evidence indicated that the level of 
Communist seaborne infiltration was slight during this period, the 
potential for expansion was there. As early as 1956, Commander Quyen, 
then commander of the Danang Coastal District, had purchased ten junks 
to patrol the 17th parallel. Soon thereafter, Quyen was transferred to 
Saigon and the force dissolved. But, in 1958 he persuaded President 
Diem to create a nationwide junk force. Diem placed the unit under the 
navy. Little became of the force, however, according to Quyen, because 

^^NA Saigon, report, 45-60 of 8 Mar 1960. See also NA Saigon, report, 20-59 of 24 Jan 1959. 
"'Msg, CP 252239Z Nov 1961. See also msg, CP 010340Z Dec. 

158 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

the navy did not have adequate resources to support it, did not understand 
the fishermen who manned the junks, and had no clear idea of the 
mission. Another debihtating factor was the construction of unseaworthy 

As Communist activity in the South intensified in the next two years, 
Quyen again pressed for estabUshment of a junk force. Then, in January 
I960, a junk with six men on board was captured off the coast of Quang 
Ngai Province. These men, who went north at the end of the French 
Indochina War, were caught transporting supphes to Communists in the 
South. The following month, the Vietnamese asked General Williams to 
comment on ways to deter large-scale infiltration by Communist boats. 
General Williams responded that sea and air patrols alone could not cope 
with the threat. Local fishermen and civilians living on the coast would 
have to help with surveillance to make an interdiction effort effective. 
After considering the American suggestions. President Diem established 
the Coastal Force in April I960. The junk force was placed under the 
Department of State for National Defense, but the Naval Deputy 
exercised operational control through his coastal district commanders.^" 
The creation of the Coastal Force was in line with the growing U.S. 
interest in counterinsurgency concepts being developed at the time. 
Admiral Felt's budding Counterinsurgency Plan called for intensified 
coastal surveillance and reflected the new American emphasis on South 
Vietnamese internal security. 

Quyen's project followed closely a program which the French drew up 
during the Indochina War but never implemented. His plan called for a 
force of 420 sailing junks and 63 motorized junks, manned by 2,200 
fishermen, with an annual budget of $1,500,000, to patrol the inshore 
coastal waters within five miles of shore. The proposed twenty-one junk 
divisions, each comprising twenty-three junks, would patrol about thirty 
miles of shoreline. In addition to the mission of interdicting maritime 
infiltration and smuggling, the force also was responsible for collecting 
intelligence on fishermen, pursuing a psychological warfare program 
among them, and maintaining government authority in the populous 
coastal areas. When fully deployed, the force also was to curtail Viet Cong 

'"CINCPAC, Command History, 1960, p. 168; NA Saigon, report, 86-60 of 18 Apr 1960; G. A. 
Carter et al.. User's Guide to Southeast Asia Combat Data (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corp., 1976), p. 380; 
"History of the Coastal Force," (Unpublished Manuscript). 

U.S. Military Assistance and the Vietnamese Nary 159 

intracoastal traffic, a task beyond the capability of the navy." 

Several unexpected but surmountable problems plagued the establish- 
ment of the force. Quyen had conceived of the force as a clandestine 
group that would blend with the local fishing traffic. It soon became 
apparent, however, that the junks unavoidably revealed their identity by 
boarding and searching other junks rather than fishing. Quyen hoped to 
recruit fishermen who needed only a minimum of training and were 
familiar with local junk traffic. But, this group proved difficult to recruit 
because of their traditional independence. Therefore, in the first 400-man 
class, which began training at Danang in July I960 under Lieutenant 
Nguyen Van Thong, only 25 percent were former fishermen. The rest 
were refugees from North Vietnam living in camps near Danang. As a 
result, it was necessary to extend the training program past the 1 5 October 
completion date." By November, however, training was completed. On 4 
December I960, four divisions of twenty junks each deployed along the 
northern coast of Vietnam, between Quang Nam Province and the 
Demilitarized Zone, at Cua Viet, Hue, Danang, and Hoi An. The 
junkmen spent most of January and February 1961 establishing their 
bases, and by March were conducting limited patrols. 

Setting up a communication network for the force proved difficult. The 
initial plan called for Civil Guard or army units to man small coastal 
outposts, to which junks would send messages for relay back to the main 
base or to Sea Force ships offshore. These outposts were never established 
and radios for the junks were diverted to army units. U.S. carbines and 
other weapons destined for the junk force also went to army units, leaving 
the junkmen with old French submachine guns and repeating rifles.'^ 

The activity of Coastal Division 1 1 , based at the mouth of the Cua Viet 
River about ten miles south of the Demilitarized Zone, was typical during 
this period. The army commander in the area. Major General Tran Van 
Don, was sympathetic to the program and agreed to help ease the unit's 
officer shortage by providing an army lieutenant to command the twenty 
sailing junks and 104 men. A naval petty officer and two seamen assisted 
the lieutenant. All administrative and logistic support came from the naval 

"NA Saigon, reports, 86-60 of 18 Apr 1960; 87-60 of 19 Apr; CINCPAC, Command History, 
I960, p. 293; U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 2, pt. IVA.5, tab 4, p. 93. 

"NA Saigon, reports, 109-60 of 25 May 1960; 16-S-60 of 3 Aug; 230-60 of 17 Nov; "History of 
the Coastal Force."' 

^ Heinz, memo for record, of 19 Apr 1961. 

160 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

base at Danang. The army officers in this and sister units turned out to be 
more of a Habihty than an asset, however. They seemed to be the worst 
officers in General Don's command and had little interest in learning 
naval procedures. 

By the end of March 1961, the division patrolled about twenty miles of 
coastline and five miles out to sea. Quyen hoped that local fishermen 
would report suspicious junks to the Coastal Force, but since the majority 
of the Coastal Force sailors were alien to the area, little such information 
was received. On three occasions, however, junks gave chase to suspected 
North Vietnamese sailing junks. In these instances, the security office 
under the Quang Tri Province chief had alerted the junk force to the 
infiltrators. The Communist boats, however, eluded the sailing junks 
because the former craft possessed greater speed and the deputy province 
chief prohibited firing anything but warning shots. ^"^ 

By mid- 1961, U.S. policymakers were convinced that the threat of 
internal subversion was more serious than that of conventional cross- 
border attack and were looking for ways to increase counterinsurgency 
capabilities. The relatively inexpensive support required by the Coastal 
Force impressed American observers and convinced them that this was an 
ideal counterinsurgency technique. The Presidential Program for Viet- 
nam, which John F. Kennedy approved in May 1961, contained a pledge 
of support for the Vietnamese junk force, to include training of junk crews 
"as a means of preventing Viet Cong clandestine supply and infiltration 
into South Vietnam." This support, in addition to twelve training advisors, 
included U.S. funding for radios and weapons. Until then, the junk force 
had been equipped, manned, and funded solely by the Vietnamese." 

That the newly formed Coastal Force was a threat to Communist activity 
was indicated by their action on 9 July 1961. On that date, the 
Communists sent fishing boats south across the 17th parallel from a base 
on Gio Island, just north of the Demilitarized Zone, to lure South 
Vietnamese patrols. When six junk force boats pursued, they were 
suddenly surrounded by twenty motorized and armed boats and taken 
under fire. However, the South Vietnamese return fire compelled the 
North Vietnamese to withdraw, leaving behind one of their fishing boats. 

"CINCPAC, Command History, 1960, p. 169. 

"f.5.-KN. Relanom, bk. 2, pt. IVB.l, p. 30. See also CINCPAC, Command History, 1961, p. 180; 
ONI, "Briefing by former Naval Attache, Saigon," in Saigon, report, ll-S-62 of 3 Oct 1962. 

U.S. Military Assistance and the Vietnamese Navy 161 

Such actions as these gave promise to the developing coastal surveillance 

The Persons Visit 

In mid-November 1961, Admiral Felt sent his Deputy Chief of Staff for 
Military Assistance Affairs, Rear Admiral Henry S. Persons, to Saigon to 
consult with MAAG personnel on ways to improve the Vietnamese 
Navy's contribution to the overall military effort. His report summarized 
the major problems facing the Vietnamese Navy at the end of 1961, and 
served as a focus of advisory attention in 1962. 

Admiral Persons found the most serious problem to be the low 
utilization of the Vietnamese Navy's ships and craft. U.S. naval advisors 
told him that two-thirds of the patrol ships and half of the river boats were 
unavailable for operations because of repair, maintenance, or scheduling 
difficulties. He identified poor supervision at the Saigon Naval Shipyard 
as the root cause of delays in repairing ships and craft. In this regard, 
General McGarr pointed out that the expected arrival of additional U.S. 
advisors for the shipyard promised to improve performance. In addition, 
the recent decision of the Vietnamese Navy to make force commanders 
responsible for maintenance as well as operations promised to improve 
preventive maintenance performance. 

Admiral Persons also recommended that the navy be represented on 
the Joint General Staff if naval resources were to be used effectively. 
General McGarr agreed wholeheartedly, but his attempts to convince the 
Vietnamese Army of this necessity met with little success. Admiral Persons 
also urged the MAAG's Navy Section to press harder for the establish- 
ment of separate naval organizations, such as an intelligence office, that 
would provide better support for the maritime service. 

At the same time, Admiral Persons called for increased U.S. support for 
the Coastal Force. The complete coastal surveillance plan, under consider- 
ation at the end of I960, was not implemented due to difficulties 
coordinating it with the army and the air force. General McGarr also 
explained that high contractor bids, which totalled more than the budget 
approved by the Department of State for National Defense, delayed 
construction of junks. Furthermore, the deployment of a command junk 

162 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

was set back when the prototype to be constructed at the Saigon Naval 
Shipyard proved to be unsuitable. 

Admiral Persons identified several other major deficiencies in the 
Vietnamese Navy. Training was unsatisfactory because of a lack of 
qualified Vietnamese instructors in the naval schools at Nha Trang. The 
arrival of a U.S. mobile training team, however, promised to alleviate this 
situation. The same remedy was prescribed for the supply center at 
Saigon, where records were in such bad shape that the Vietnamese did not 
know all the items they had on hand. 

Finally, some consideration was given to expediting the delivery of 
patrol ships to the Vietnamese in order to bolster their coastal patrol 
resources. Admiral Persons recommended against this action because the 
Vietnamese would not be able to accept the patrol vessels without a 
corresponding slowdown in the delivery of an LST due in April and an 
LSM due in June 1962. These latter ships were critical because of the need 
to provide logistic support to Danang, Nha Trang, and other coastal ports. 
The Communist threat to cut railroad lines to these cities made supply 
especially important. Admiral Felt concurred, and added that in general 
"materials and people are not lacking; organization, training and mainte- 
nance, all interrelated, must be jacked up."''' He added that "our problem 
is one of inculcating into the VN Navy a desire to utilize better the tools 
which are at hand."'^ 

During the period from 1959 to 1961, the number of U.S. naval 
advisors and new ships and craft provided the fledgling Vietnamese 
maritime service was small. This modest level of U.S. military assistance 
partly reflected the relatively minor importance of the Vietnamese Navy 
in the worldwide aid program. But, U.S. officials also believed the navy 
incapable of absorbing a great number of ships, boats, weapons, and U.S. 
advisors due to the many problems faced by that service. Many leaders of 
the navy lacked experience, were too involved in South Vietnamese 
domestic politics, and often lacked motivation. The training received by 
officers and men was marginal. The obsolescence of ships, river craft, and 
weapons, as well as the inadequacies at repair and logistic facilities, 

^''Msg, CP 242055Z Nov 1961. See also msgs, CHMAAGVN 140315Z; 270745Z. 
' Ltr, Felt to Anderson, of 30 Nov 1961. 

U.S. Military Assistance and the Vietnamese Navy 163 

hampered operations, as did the absence of adequate shipboard mainte- 

The Vietnamese Navy registered some selective improvement in 
administration, organization, training, logistic support, and operational 
performance during this period, partly as a result of the work of U.S. naval 
advisors. Still, much remained to be done before the naval arm could be 
considered ready to accomplish its mission in the rivers and coastal waters 
of South Vietnam. 


The Seventh Fleet's Contribution 

to the Limited Partnership, 


In late 1961, the United States increased the scope and magnitude of the 
effort to preserve the struggling South Vietnamese government. Largely 
as a result of General Taylor's fact-finding mission to Vietnam, President 
Kennedy directed his policymakers to implement a program of additional 
naval, military, economic, and financial assistance. Reflecting the high 
priority accorded this program, Secretary of Defense McNamara took 
personal and close interest in its execution. From December 1961 to 
March 1962, he attended monthly conferences at CINCPAC headquarters 
in Hawaii to monitor and maintain the momentum of the project. 
Thereafter, he visited Hawaii or South Vietnam periodically to assess the 
course of events. 

In December, McNamara was apprised by Admiral Felt, Ambassador 
Nolting, and General Harkins that the Viet Cong were making consider- 
able inroads in South Vietnam and that Diem's government was not 
meeting the threat adequately. Admiral Felt concluded pessimistically that 
the "situation in Southeast Asia has never been more favorable for 
advancement of Communist aims .... In South Vietnam, VC making 
good progress in field .... Although various US/SVN actions may slow 
down VC somewhat. Communists still hold edge in the countryside."' 

U.S. military and civilian leaders regarded one of the greatest obstacles 
to a reversal of South Vietnamese fortunes as President Diem himself. 
Throughout the year Diem resisted implementing various provisions of 
the U.S. -conceived Counterinsurgency Plan and the Presidential Program 
of May, and greater popular support for his regime was not in evidence. 

'Msg, CP 232035Z Dec 1961. See also U.S.-V.N. RelaUom, bk. 3, p. 3. 


The Seventh Fleet's Contribution to the Limited Partnership 165 

Admiral Anderson, the CNO, informed his flag officers that "unfortunate- 
ly, it is clear that Diem is strongly opposed to taking any action which 
might tend to undermine his one-man rule, and he resents American 
advice as to the necessity for military and political reforms."' Indeed, Rear 
Admiral William E. Gentner, Jr., director of the Strategic Plans Division, 
proposed advising Diem that unless changes were made, he would have to 
"accept the real possibility that the United States will stand aside while 
Vietnamese select a new Chief of State. "^ At the first conference in 
Hawaii, on 16 December 1961, however, the Secretary of Defense stated 
that U.S. officials would have to assume that "Diem is going to continue 
to be Diem" and "since he is all that we have, we must work with him."** 

McNamara went on to stress that the survival of South Vietnam was the 
first priority of the administration and that money would be no object in 
the provision of military assistance. Everything short of combat troops 
would be offered. Nevertheless, the use of U.S. ground units in Vietnam 
was not ruled out. As the Director, Politico-Military Policy Division, Rear 
Admiral Arnold F. Schade, noted in a briefing to Vice Admiral Schoech, 
Commander Seventh Fleet, "if we get by short of introducing U.S. or 
SEATO troops, it will be a long hard pull." He added that "we can't see 
any light at the other end of the tunnel yet."' 

The Combined U.S.-South Vietnamese Coastal Patrol 

While this was short of full-scale intervention, units of the U.S. Armed 
Forces, for the first time in the Asian conflict, were ordered to provide the 
Vietnamese with direct support. Army light helicopter units were quickly 
dispatched to South Vietnam, as were other U.S. -manned transport 
aircraft. On 11 December 1961, Core, an aircraft ferry operated by the 
MSTS, arrived in Saigon and offloaded the Army's 8th and 57th 

■'Ltr, CNO to Flag and General Officers, of 4 Dec 1961. See also memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser 
BM1330-61 of 29 Dec; U.S. -V.N. Relations, bk. 3, pp. 6, 19; bk. 12, pp. 439-41. 

^Memo, OP-60 to OP-06, ser BMOOOll-62 of 3 Jan 1962. 

CINCPAC, "Record of the Secretary of Defense Conference held 16 December 1961 at 
Headquarters, Commander-in-Chief Pacific," ser 000300 of 18 Dec 1961, pp. 4-6. See also 
CINCPAC, Command History, 1962, pp. 149-53. 

'Ltr, OP-61 to COM7FLT, ser 00225P61 of 22 Dec 1961. See also CINCPAC, SECDEF 
Conference, of 16 Dec 1961, pp. 1-2; Itr, CNO to Flag and General Officers, of 4 Jan 1962; msg,JCS 
171615Z Jan. 

166 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Transportation Companies (Light Helicopter).'' In addition, as its role in 
the new strategy of "limited partnership," the Navy was called upon to 
help establish a coastal patrol. On 27 November, Secretary of Defense 
McNamara implemented one provision of a presidential directive that the 
South Vietnamese be provided with "small craft, including such United 
States uniformed advisors and operating personnel as may be necessary for 
operations in effecting surveillance and control over coastal waters and 
inland waterways."^ Several days later, this instruction was amplified to 
state that the proposed U.S. patrol would be conducted until the South 
Vietnamese Navy had the capability to unilaterally carry out the coastal 
control mission. This addition obviously reflected the perception that the 
South Vietnamese Navy's Sea Force was then unable to provide an 
adequate patrol force. 

Under these circumstances. Admiral Felt did not oppose the use of U.S. 
ships or aircraft in a coastal patrol, as he did earlier in 1961. He hoped 
that the presence of U.S. ships on patrol would infuse the Vietnamese with 
the "can do" spirit, provide needed training in conducting a multi-ship 
operation, and demonstrate the value of coordination between air, sea, 
and coastal forces. Admiral Felt stated that the employment of the U.S. 
units was to "augment [Vietnamese Navy] capability temporarily and for 
the purpose of working with and assisting in training SVN Sea Force."* 
Captain Joseph B. Drachnik, newly assigned Chief of the MAAG's Navy 
Section, stated that the object was to get the Vietnamese Navy's "ships in 
such condition that they could operate for extended periods of time, 
convince the sailors that they could go to sea for more than three days 
without everybody getting seasick or running out of water or food, and 
developing incentives and showing them procedures whereby they could 
do this."' Additionally, there was a need to determine the extent and 
nature of seaborne infiltration from North Vietnam. CINCPAC specifical- 
ly wanted to know if the upsurge of Communist activity in South Vietnam 
during the latter part of the year "had been preceded or accompanied by 
increased junk traffic."'" 

^V.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 3, p. 7; pt. IVB.3, pp. ii-iii. 

'Memo, SECDEF to SECARM/SECNAV/SECAF/Chairman JCS/ASD (ISA) of 27 Nov 1961. 
*'Msg, CP 010340Z Dec 1961. 

'Joseph B. Drachnik, transcript of interview with WilHam W. Moss, John F. Kennedy Library, in 
Norfolk, VA, 27 Jul 1970, p. 3. 
'"Msg, CP 2923 16Z Nov 1961. 

The Seventh Fleet's Contribution to the Limited Partnership 167 





108° r^ 

y'\ 1 /I 

109° ^i^ 110° r 111° 


Gulf of 


7 19?- 

Hainan ^ 



''il North 

\ Vietnam 

^~ ~. ___ Air Patrol 

>\ Sea Patrol ~ ~~ ~ ^ 





^ ~ -^ ^ Paracel ^-^ 
~~^ Islands > ■ 

-16° y 


S\.^ Da 


nang >^ 

N. til 




China Sea 

-15° j 



'■/^•\ ]V 


1091 1''°° 111° 

V 1 1 

17th Parallel Patrol 

Because the coastal patrol mission was requested on an urgent basis, the 
naval command met the requirement for U.S. vessels with the most 
suitable ships then in the Southeast Asian area. These were the five 165- 
foot ocean minesweepers (MSO) of Minesweeping Division 73, that had 
just recently completed an exercise in the Gulf of Siam and were due to 
call at Saigon on 8 December 1961. Admiral Sides, the Pacific Fleet 
commander, directed Vice Admiral Schoech to organize a meeting in the 
South Vietnamese capital to work out the details of the proposed patrol. 
Prior to the conference, it was thought that the areas of responsibility 
would include the sea around Phu Quoc Island and Cape Camau, although 

168 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

the major effort was to take place between the 17th parallel and the 
Paracel Islands. It soon became evident, however, that only the 17th 
parallel sector could be adequately covered by the five ships of Mine- 
sweeping Division 73-" 

Guided by instructions from Admirals Felt and Sides, CINCPACFLT 
and Seventh Fleet representatives, General McGarr, Commander Ralph E. 
Graham, the Minesweeping Division 73 commander, and Captain Dra- 
chnik met with Commander Quyen and other South Vietnamese naval 
officers in Saigon on 10 December. The conferees drew up a concept of 
operations that provided for the establishment of a "fixed barrier patrol" 
ten miles south of the 17th parallel and extending eight to thirty miles 
from the South Vietnamese coast. This area was believed to hold the most 
promise for intercepting North Vietnamese coastal traffic to the South, 
but provision was made to shift the patrol to other locations to the east if 
warranted. The combined patrol force was to consist of two Vietnamese 
PCs operating in conjunction with two to three MSOs. The U.S. ships 
would guide their Vietnamese counterparts to suspect craft and stand by 
during boarding and search operations. U.S. personnel were not allowed 
to board suspicious boats. Commander Minesweeping Division 73 was 
assigned the tactical command. Commander Quyen stated that his ship 
captains would be directed to "carry out the orders of the U.S. patrol 
commander."'^ But, in keeping with the U.S. advisory role in South 
Vietnam, Admiral Sides changed "orders" to read "recommendations."" 

Although both Admirals Felt and Sides preferred to operate the U.S. 
contingent of the patrol force from Subic Bay, the conferees decided that 
Danang was suitable as a staging base and was closer to the patrol area. 
Most logistic support would be provided by the Seventh Fleet Mobile 
Logistic Support Force (Task Force 73), although a Vietnamese fuel-oil 
barge was available at Danang to refuel U.S. ships. The Saigon planning 
group also requested that air surveillance of the sea from the South 
Vietnamese coast to the Paracels be instituted to complement the surface 
patrol and a limited U.S. Air Force reconnaissance effort already 

"Msgs, CPFLT 302026Z Nov 1961; CP 030626Z Dec; memo, MUitajT Assistant, SECDEF to 
SECARM/SECNAV/SECAF/Chairman JCS. of 6 Dec. 

'^Msg, CHMAAGVN 110757Z Dec 1961. 

"Msg, CPFLT 120131Z Dec 1961. See also SHCSTATE 8PM 4 Dec; CPFLT 052359Z; CP 

The Seventh Fleet's Contribution to the Limited Partnership 169 

underway. With this general concept agreed upon, it was affirmed that the 
combined operation would commence on 22 December. '"* 

On 14 December, CINCPACFLT issued his Operation Plan 75-61 
governing U.S. conduct of the combined 17th parallel patrol. While the 
plan stated that only "small scale infiltration by sea" into South Vietnam 
then existed, Minesweeping Division 73 was assigned the mission of 
conducting "patrol, surveillance and training operations in the coastal 
waters off SVN in order to assist CHMAAG Vietnam and SVN naval 
forces in preventing infiltration."" CINCPAC approved the patrol plan 
the following day, and CINCPACFLT immediately ordered its execution. 
On 16 December, Secretary of Defense McNamara, meeting with Pacific 
Command representatives at CINCPAC's Hawaiian headquarters on the 
situation in South Vietnam, endorsed the proposed measures "as a 
beginning, subsequent action dependent on experience."'^ 

At the same conference Admiral Felt directed that Seventh Fleet 
reconnaissance aircraft, in the course of their routine flights, assist U.S. 
Air Force units operating from South Vietnam in making a count of the 
junks plying the waters between the 17th parallel and the Paracels. Soon 
afterward, however. Admiral Schoech ordered Commander Patrol Force, 
Seventh Fleet to establish a formal air patrol by SP-5B Marlin aircraft of 
VP 40, with random flights conducted at least every other day. The patrol 
force commander was to provide Commander Graham and the MAAG 
with intelligence on maritime traffic patterns and density. Admiral Sides 
cautioned that the reconnaissance planes not fly any closer than thirty 
miles to the coast. This gap would be filled by the ships of the combined 
surface group. CINCPAC subsequently approved this revised plan." 

On 22 December 1961, six days after the Vietnamese deployed, the 
U.S. ships of the combined patrol force assumed their stations five miles 
south of the 17th parallel, marking the first time major units of the 
Seventh Fleet participated directly in the Vietnam conflict. The force 
consisted oi Conquest (MSO-488), Esteem (MSO-438), Pledge (MSO-492), 

'"Msgs, COMINDIV73 101233Z Dec 1961; CHMAAGVN 110757Z. 

''Msg, CPFLT 142351Z Dec 1961. See also CHMAAGVN 131733Z. 

"^CINCPAC, SECDEF Conference, of 16 Dec 1961, pp. 8-D-l— 8-D-2, 8-D-5. See also memo, 
OP-60 to CNO, ser 0001296-61 of 18 Dec 1961; msgs, CP 111920Z Dec; 151915Z; CPFLT 
152329Z; ADMIN CPFLT 181114Z; CP 202326Z. 

''Msgs, CHMAAGVN 190245Z Dec 1961; ADMIN COM7FLT 190448Z; CPFLT 200203Z; CP 
222112Z; CINCPAC, SECDEF Conference, of 16 Dec 1961, p, 8-D-2. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

USN-l 142218 
Ocean minesweeper Pledge (MSO-492) searches for Communist infiltrators off the South 
Vietnamese coast. 

and Gallant (MSO-489), in company with two South Vietnamese PCs. A 
fifth U.S. ship, Illusive (MSO-448), remained in readiness in Danang. For 
the next two months, the American and Vietnamese ships of the patrol 
force ranged the area east of Danang. Normally, U.S. ships steamed at 
staggered intervals on an east-west track in proximity to the parallel. Early 
in the period numerous junks and other small craft, as well as several steel- 
hulled trawlers, evaded search by beating to the north across the parallel. 
Of the craft actually stopped and searched, few produced suspects 
requiring further identification. In one instance, a man under investigation 
was found to be the brother of a political commissar in the North 
Vietnamese People's Army. However, Captain Drachnik reported in mid- 

The Seventh Fleet's Contribution to the Limited Partnership 171 

February that all persons detained in Danang for interrogation subse- 
quently were released.'* 

While the air and surface patrol might have been effective as a 
deterrent to North Vietnamese sea infiltration, the lack of firm evidence 
of enemy activity did not indicate the need for continued U.S. participa- 
tion. Admiral Felt, along with other naval officers close to the scene, 
previously believed that only small-scale, cross-border movement was 
taking place; and he continued to believe, as he intimated to Admiral 
Anderson during the latter's trip to the Pacific in late December, that the 
U.S. air and sea effort was not "particularly useful."" However, several 
factors combined to require extension of the 17th parallel patrol, not the 
least of which was Secretary of Defense McNamara's undiminished 
interest in the coastal effort. During his second monthly meeting with 
Pacific commanders in Hawaii, on 15 January 1962, he was briefed on the 
number of junks stopped and suspects taken. Admiral Sides reported that 
McNamara felt the Navy had "done a truly marvelous job during the past 
couple of months .... The apparent efficiency with which the fleet ships 
have established their patrols is extremely impressive."^" In addition, the 
Secretary of Defense added that he wanted "intelligence reports on what 
we have gotten from captured junks" at the next monthly meeting.^' 

Another factor was the coming availability of five destroyer escorts 
(DE) from the Reserve Fleet which were activated during the Berlin crisis 
of late 1961. These 306-foot ships were much better suited to the coastal 
patrol mission than the MSOs. Since they were faster and had better sea- 
keeping abilities, each destroyer escort could perform the work of two 
minesweepers. In addition, the patrol was seen as a temporary operation 
and the Naval Reserve ships were scheduled for deactivation at the end of 

'^CINCPAC, "Record of the Secretary of Defense Conference held 19 February 1962 at 
Headquarters, Commander-in-Chief Pacific," ser 00062 of 20 Feb 1962, p. 3-12; msgs, CTU70.5.7 
190913Z Dec 1961; 250433Z; 290545Z; CTF72 250539Z Jan 1962; memo, OP-60 to J-3/Joint 
Staff, JCS, ser 0020P60 of 8 Jan 1962. 

'^CNO, Daily Diary, of 29 Dec 1961. 

™Ltr, Sides to Anderson, of 16 Jan 1962. 

^'CINCPAC, "Record of the Secretary of Defense Conference held 15 January 1962 at 
Headquarters, Commander-in-Chief Pacific," ser 00021 of 16 Jan 1962, pp. 3-9, 3-7. See also memo, 
OP-601C4 to OP-60, ser BM00069-62 of 18 Jan. 

^^Ltr, Sides to Anderson, of l6Jan 1962; CINCPAC, SECDEF Conference, of 15 Jan 1962, pp. 3- 
8—3-9; msg, CPFLT 170301Z Jan; memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM0076-62 of 22 Jan 1962. 

172 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

The change in ship types also afforded naval commanders the opportu- 
nity to reorganize the patrol operation to increase its flexibility and 
effectiveness. To ease logistic support requirements, CINCPACFLT again 
proposed basing the U.S. patrol force at Subic Bay, especially since he felt 
that the use of Danang was "not necessary for accomplishing mission of 
training VN Navy."^' Admiral Sides also requested authority for U.S. 
ships to conduct surveillance or pursue craft north of the 17th parallel. 
The admiral was distressed that "to date 52 contact[s] have turned north 
upon sighting patrol and have escaped interception." He added that 
"limitation of 17th parallel if left in effect too long can become a real 
fence in politico-military thinking."'^ Finally, CINCPACFLT proposed 
centralizing command of both the U.S. air and sea patrol under 
Commander Patrol Force, Seventh Fleet, Rear Admiral Bernard M. 
Strean. This step was especially desirable since that officer was better able 
to control operations through his staff and mobile flagship, seaplane 
tender Pine Island. 

CINCPAC approved these measures and they soon were embodied in 
Commander Seventh Fleet Operation Plan 75-62, which took effect on 17 
February 1962. On that date, a patrol force component, under the 
temporary command of Commander John B. Lewis, USNR, and com- 
posed oi Edmonds (DE-406) and Walton (DE-361), relieved Minesweep- 
ing Division 11) P 

As the destroyer escorts took their stations near the border between 
North and South Vietnam, the U.S. Navy also became involved in 
countering infiltration from Cambodia. In early January the South 
Vietnamese government, through Captain Drachnik of the MAAG, 
requested U.S. assistance in patrolling the waters off the Mekong Delta, 
where Vietnamese authorities reported significant infiltration from 
Cambodia by way of the many islands in the Gulf of Siam. The major 
points of entry were believed to be along the east and west coasts of the 
Camau Peninsula, long a Viet Cong stronghold. The South Vietnamese 
stressed that their navy possessed insufficient patrol ships to interdict this 
Communist traffic; but Captain Drachnik and other Americans, including 

"Msg, CPFLT 170301ZJan 1962. 

"Msgs, CP 192347ZJan 1962; ADMIN COM7FLT 211326Z; CTF72 250534Z; CP 090308Z 
Feb; CTF72 100312Z. 

The Seventh Fleet's Contribution to the Limited Partnership 173 

Admiral Anderson and his chief Pacific naval commanders, were skeptical 
that major infiltration actually was underway. Nevertheless, the captain 
felt that the enemy certainly had the ability to infiltrate arms and supplies 
from Cambodia and was probably doing so on a minor scale. Captain 
Drachnik noted the need for the South Vietnamese Navy to gain 
experience and proficiency in the conduct of open-sea patrol, training he 
then believed Sea Force crews on the northern patrol were receiving. For 
these reasons, he recommended U.S. participation and assistance in the 
establishment of combined U.S. -Vietnamese patrols from the Cambodian 
border to Cape Camau and from that point to Son Island. Eventually, 
however, the latter segment was dropped for lack of a suitable number of 
South Vietnamese patrol ships. 

Admiral Felt shared the skepticism of American naval commanders 
regarding the amount of infiltration in the Gulf of Siam. But, to resolve 
the issue, CINCPAC ordered the establishment of a U.S. -Vietnamese 
patrol from Cape Camau to Phu Quoc for a period of two weeks in order 
to "determine degree of, and to counter, sea infiltration in progress from 
Cambodia via Gulf of Siam," and additionally to "train [the Vietnamese 
Navy's] ships in patrol and surveillance procedures."^'' Remaining under 
the operational control of Commander Seventh Fleet and patrolling in 
conjunction with 2 or 3 South Vietnamese PCs, 1 gasoline barge, self- 
propelled (YOG), and 1 AKL, 1 or 2 U.S. destroyer escorts would direct 
their counterparts to suspicious craft in the manner of the 17 th parallel 
patrol. South Vietnamese ships would be vectored to infiltrating boats in 
order to board and search them and to investigate further suspicious 
seafarers. ^^ 

On 19 February 1962, at the third consecutive monthly meeting 
dealing with the situation in South Vietnam, Secretary of Defense 
McNamara was briefed on the proposed southern patrol. In addition, the 
effectiveness of the surface and air patrols along the 17 th parallel was 
discussed. Captain Drachnik expressed his belief that U.S. participation 
was most useful in providing the Vietnamese Navy with on-the-job 
training in extended patrolling. Admiral Felt also explained the function 

^^Msg, CP 172350Z Feb 1962. 

^■Memos, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM00199-62 of 12 Feb 1962; OP-60 to OP-06, ser BM00213-62 of 
15 Feb; OP-60 to CNO, ser BM00233-62 of 20 Feb; msgs, CHMAAGVN 07 1 107Z Feb; 1 10549Z; 
CP 172353Z; CNO 021445Z Mar; CPFLT 160429Z. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Son Isli 

South China Sea 

Coastal Patrol in the Gulf of Siam 

of the air surveillance effort in determining junk traffic density and 
patterns. As he did at the previous meeting, McNamara endorsed these 
measures and commended the Navy for doing a "wonderful job."^^ 

Wiseman (DE-667) and Walton were the initial U.S. ships assigned to 
the Gulf of Siam patrol that began on 27 February 1962. In conjunction 
with South Vietnamese units, the destroyer escorts established three patrol 
lines to screen the western coast of the delta. Patrol line Alpha extended 
from three miles south of Ha Tien to the east coast of Phu Quoc Island. 

*'CINCPAC, SECDEF Conference, of 19 Feb 1962, pp. 3-17, 3-13— 3-15. 

The Seventh Fleet's Contribution to the Limited Partnership 175 

Because the State Department feared that a U.S. presence in this area, 
which contained islands claimed by both Cambodia and Vietnam, would 
damage relations with Norodom Sihanouk's government, only Vietnam- 
ese vessels operated here. Line Bravo began at the lower tip of Phu Quoc 
and continued south to a point thirty-five miles west of the mouth of the 
Ong Doc River. From here, patrol line Charlie extended to a point thirty- 
five miles south of Cape Camau. One U.S. and one South Vietnamese ship 
cruised at random intervals along the Bravo and Charlie patrol lines."' 

Throughout the spring of 1962, naval leaders evaluated the effective- 
ness of the two combined patrols in detecting Communist infiltration and 
improving the South Vietnamese Navy's open-sea performance. At the 
end of March, Commander Seventh Fleet reported that after thousands of 
junk sightings, searches, and seizures by both the northern and southern 
patrols, infiltration from Cambodia or North Vietnam was not substantiat- 
ed. He stated: 

To date there has been no concrete evidence of massive or even 
significant infiltration .... From results attained to date it must be 
concluded that the patrols have not been effective in capturing 
infiltrators if significant infiltration is taking place, although the patrol's 
presence may have discouraged attempts. ^° 

Admiral Schoech also addressed the question of the ability of the South 
Vietnamese to unilaterally carry out the patrols. He concluded that 
because of "poor state of training and material readiness, lack of forceful 
leadership in some ships, and need for additional experience at sea by all 
SVN ships. ..the SVN Navy is not capable of assuming full responsibility 
for conducting effective patrols at present without U.S. assistance."^' At 
the same time, naval commanders believed that the American training 
effort eventually would enable the South Vietnamese Sea Force to operate 
independently. Initial reports were encouraging. The Sea Force had been 
motivated by the U.S. example to keep more of their ships on longer 

^'The exact coordinates were: Alpha — 3 miles south of Ha Tien, along 10 20'N, to 104 20'E, then 
to 10°16'N/104°6'E; Bravo — 10°0'N/104°13'E to 9°0'N; Charlie — 9°0'N to 8°0'N/104"45'E; 
msgs, ADMIN CPFLT 200112Z; CP 230420Z; AMEMB Saigon 2:25AM 24 Feb 1962; 250019Z; 
AMEMB Saigon 8:02PM 26 Feb; 4:10PM 27 Feb; CPFLT 271923Z; memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser 
BM00263-62 of 5 Mar. 

'"Msg, COM7FLT 291038Z Mar 1962. 

176 United States Naij and Vietnam Conflict 

patrols and to enhance their communications, seamanship, gunnery, and 
tactical skills. 

In the meantime, U.S. ships carried out their mission. Whitehiirst (DE- 
634), MrC7m/j(DE-365), Alvin C. Cockrell(DE-566), Marsh (DE-699), 
Vammen{DE-644) , and Charles E. Brannon (DE-446) of Escort Squadron 7 
increased the strength of the surface patrol group in March and early 
April. By mid-April, however, the Reserve destroyer escorts began 
relinquishing their northern patrol stations to make ready for rotation 
back to the United States and inactivation. Minesweeping Division 91, 
consisting of Conflict (MSO-426), Dynamic (MSO-432), Endurance (MSO- 
435), Implicit (MSO-455), and Persistent (MSO-491 ), assumed responsibili- 
ty for the northern patrol on 19 April as the Special MSO Patrol Group. 
The Seventh Fleet received two additional MSO divisions on 1 May to 
support the patrol effort. 

Again, in May, U.S. naval officers analyzed the results of the combined 
operation. Conclusive evidence of enemy infiltration still was lacking. By 
this time, it was clear that American training assistance on the southern 
patrol had not been productive. Because of their deeper draft, U.S. ships 
were unable to operate efficiently with their Vietnamese counterparts in 
the shallow waters of the Gulf of Siam. The commander of the American 
patrol group felt that "training is impractical and radar assistance in 
surveillance [is] of negligible value."" The converse was true of the 17th 
parallel patrol. There, the American presence was beneficial to the 
Vietnamese open-sea effort. For instance, the Sea Force increased its 
steaming miles per month from 10,000 in May 1961 to 37,000 in May 

As a result of these findings, CINCPACFLT concluded that further U.S. 
participation in the northern patrol was warranted. However, he recom- 
mended to CINCPAC that the American role in the Gulf of Siam patrol, 
already extended one month at the request of Commander Quyen, be 
ended. Admiral Felt concurred with these proposals. Following the 
detachment of Charles E. Brannon and Vammen for support of the landing 
in Thailand, Wiseman and the other three ships of Escort Division 72, on 

"Msg, CTG72.7 120615Z May 1962. 

''On the other hand, some South Vietnamese naval officers privately observed that the U.S. support 
was not constructive since it "so saps the initiative of the [Vietnamese] officers on the patrol as to 
cancel any training or motivational advantages achieved." CTG72.7, report, ser 002 of 18 May 1962, 
p. 2. 

The Seventh Fleet's Contribution to the Limited Partnership 111 

21 May, departed South Vietnamese waters for their scheduled return to 
the United States. The destroyer escorts might have been deployed to the 
17th parallel but Admiral Sides decided that "these ships could be more 
profitably utilized in other employment. "^'^ 

On 14 June, Admiral Sides, after consultation with Admiral Schoech, 
forwarded a study that recommended termination of the northern U.S.- 
Vietnamese coastal patrol as of 1 July 1962. The Pacific Fleet commander 
felt that the U.S. Navy's effort had served its purpose in preparing the Sea 
Force to conduct unilateral open-sea patrols, although technical deficien- 
cies, such as the lack of suitable radar, would reduce their effectiveness 
somewhat. He also was convinced that there was no "appreciable 
infiltration" by sea.^^ Admiral Felt basically agreed with these views, but 
concluded that the U.S. operation would be continued for an additional 
month. This reflected the fears of the South Vietnamese who were not yet 
confident the Sea Force could assume full responsibility for the patrol. 
Admiral Felt also was concerned that the close of the northern patrol so 
soon after the U.S. withdrawal from the southern sector could have a 
negative impact on South Vietnamese morale. 

Through the month of July, Minesweeping Division 7 1 , under 
Commander Robert L. Morgan, with Engage (MSO-433), Fortify (MSO- 
446), and Impervious (MSO-449), manned patrol stations along the 17 th 
parallel. Finally, on 1 August 1962, after seven months, the Seventh Fleet 
brought to a close its first major operation in direct support of the South 
Vietnamese armed forces.''' 

The Seventh Fleet Provides Additional Support 

The Navy's Pacific Fleet also undertook other operations in South 
Vietnamese waters. Among these were intelligence gathering missions 

"Msg, CPFLT 150038Z May 1962. 

"Msg, CPFLT 142201ZJun 1962. 

''Msgs, COM7FLT 201146Z Feb 1962; COMUSMACV 070747Z Mar; CP 130506Z; CPFLT 
160429Z; 302358Z; COM7FLT 102246Z Apr; 150325Z; CTG72.7 270005Z; 120615Z May; 
ADMIN CPFLT 150038Z; CP 170007Z; COMUSMACV 191004Z; CPFLT 042059Z Jun; CP 
060457Z; CPFLT 130219Z; 142201Z; COM7FLT 31 1750Z Jul; CP 112025Z Aug; memos, OP-60 
to CNO, ser 00533-62 of 23 Apr 1962; OP-601C6 of [2 May]; OP-60 to CNO, BM00649-62 of 26 
May; CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1962; NA Saigon, repon 33-S-62 of 29 Mar 1962; 
COMPHIBPAC, reports, 8-62 of 19 Jul; 7-S-62 of 10 Aug; 9-S-62 of 10 Oct; ONI, repon, 1 l-S-62 of 
3 Oct; CTG72.7, report, ser 002 of 18 May; Drachnik, Interview with Fitzgerald. 

178 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

motivated in part by CINCPACFLT's appreciation that "the present 
conflict in South Vietnam could expand in scope with little warning and 
require extensive commitment of U.S. naval forces. Amphibious, mine 
warfare, and more intensive barrier/surveillance operations are all distinct 
possibilities; all require the greatest possible knowledge of South Viet- 
nam's coastal waters."^" 

This requirement already was recognized at the end of 1961 when 
CINCPAC authorized his naval component commander to deploy Cook 
(APD-130) for a beach survey on the South Vietnamese coast. At that 
time, CINCPACFLT noted that the information available on landing 
beaches was "not sufficiently [ detailed] for tactical use for either 
administrative or opposed landings."^® Admiral Sides was particularly 
interested in beaches in the vicinity of Quang Tri, Danang, Nha Trang, 
Cam Ranh Bay, Vung Tau, and Qui Nhon. After Cook's executive officer 
conducted a liaison and coordination visit to Saigon on 22 December, the 
ship proceeded to the South Vietnamese coast and on 4 January 1962 
began her mission. UDT detachments carried out most of the required 
surveys of beach configurations, gradients, underwater obstacles, and tides 
in the assigned areas. The work was completed without incident on 27 

Another naval support mission took place at the end of January 1962, 
when the Army's 93rd Transportation Company was lifted by sea to 
Southeast Asia. USNS Card (T-AKV-40), an aircraft ferry operated by the 
MSTS, brought this unit — the third of its type to deploy to South 
Vietnam — to Subic Bay, where its personnel and H-2 1 helicopters were 
reembarked in Princeton (LPH-5), LST-629, and LST-630. The three ships 
departed the U.S. naval base on the night of 23 January, initially feinting 
in the direction of Hong Kong but changing course for Danang. Arriving 
off that South Vietnamese port late on the 25th, Princeton launched the 
Army helicopters for the short flight to shore, while the landing ships 
discharged their cargo in the harbor.^" 

''Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 32/00351 of 23 Apr 1962. 

"CINCPACFLTs views were reported in msg, CP 01051''Z Dec 1961. 

''^COMPHIBPAC, report, 6-61 of 9 Nov 1961; memo, OP-61 to OSD (ISA), ser 002157P61 of 8 
Dec; msgs, CP 010517Z Dec 1961; CNO 061727Z; ALUSNA Saigon 120710Z; 150200Z; 
SECSTATE 220035Z; CTF76 230140Z Jan 1962; memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM00164-62 of 5 Feb 

■'"Msgs, CTG76.5 n0735Z Jan 1962; 220516Z; 260330Z; CHMAAGVN 270107Z. 

The Seventh Fleet's Contribution to the Limited Partnership 179 

At the second Secretary of Defense conference in Hawaii, on 15 
January, McNamara pledged an additional U.S. light helicopter company 
if CINCPAC and the Chief, MAAG, Vietnam, decided a fourth unit was 
required. Admiral Felt and General McGarr determined that another 
helicopter company was needed to increase South Vietnamese mobility in 
the difficult Mekong Delta environment. Since the Army was unable to 
provide the unit immediately, plans were made to deploy a Marine 
medium helicopter squadron from Okinawa. On 21 March, CINCPAC 
ordered CINCPACFLT to lift HMM 362 to South Vietnam by approxi- 
mately 15 April. Admiral Sides concurred with Admiral Schoech's 
decision to use Princeton for the task, especially since this would facilitate a 
fly-off of the squadron directly to its destination, and avoid a conspicuous 
offloading at Saigon, which was considered undesirable by the State 
Department. By the end of March, Soc Trang, a former Japanese fighter 
strip located south of Can Tho in Ba Xuyen Province, was selected as the 
operating site of the Marine helicopter unit. On 10 April Princeton, having 
just participated in Exercise Tulungan, sailed from Buckner Bay, Okina- 
wa, with the 259 officers and men and twenty-four H-34D helicopters of 
HMM 362 on board. The ship rendezvoused in the South China Sea with 
Hancock and two destroyers of Task Force 77. The carrier's aircraft were 
directed to provide air cover for the fly-off but to approach no closer than 
twenty miles from the shore. At first light on 15 April 1962, from a 
position thirty miles southeast of Soc Trang, the Marine squadron flew off 
Princeton to join advance elements already airlifted to the base. In short 
order, HMM 362 was prepared to begin troop-lift operations as the first 
Marine combat support unit deployed to South Vietnam. The effort was 
named Operation Shufly."*' 

As part of the continuing effort to bolster South Vietnamese morale and 
assure the populace of U.S. support, periodic ship visits were conducted in 
1962. One of these resulted from information that the Viet Cong were 
spreading rumors among the people of being supplied by sea from 
Communist submarines. When Commander Quyen requested an appro- 

""CINCPAC, Command History, 1962, pp. 191-92; Hooper, Interview with Whitlow, pp. 4-6; 
Archie J. Clapp, "Shu-Fly Diary," USNIP (Oct 1963), pp. 14, 16; msgs, JCS 192142Z Mar 1962; 
ADMINO CP 210412Z; JCS 291549Z; CPFLT 30O316Z; CGFIRSTMAW 300700Z; COM7FLT 
030918Z Apr; CTG79.3 041046Z; 041244Z; CP 072036Z; CTG76.5 O9O30OZ; COMFLT 
09U34Z; CTU79.3.5 150450Z; CGFIRSTMAW 160850Z; memos, OP-331 to Admin Aide to 
SECNAV, of 10 Apr 1962; OP-601C6, of 14 Apr; Fails, Marines and Helicopters. 1962-1973, pp. 28- 
32; Whitlow, U.S. Marines in Vietnam, pp. 57-65. 

180 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

priate U.S. action to counter this propaganda, Commander Seventh Fleet 
dispatched Bluegill (SS-242) to South Vietnam. During the first three days 
of April, the ship became the first U.S. submarine to visit Saigon, where 
an estimated 2,500 people, including President Diem and other U.S. and 
South Vietnamese dignitaries, boarded for a tour. Admiral Felt was 
pleased by the reaction of the capital's populace to the visit and to a diving 
demonstration in the Saigon River which he described as an "especially 
effective eye-popper. "^^ Leaving Saigon, Bluegill proceeded northward 
along the coast, participating with the South Vietnamese Navy in 
antisubmarine practice and making her presence known to Vietnamese 
fishermen and observers on shore. The ship's crew also bartered for fish 
and passed out Polaroid pictures. After skirting within 1,200 yards of the 
beaches near Nha Trang, Danang, and Hue, Bluegill headed for the open 
sea on 7 April."*' 

In the fall, another Seventh Fleet ship called on the South Vietnamese 
capital to demonstrate U.S. support. In August, Captain Quyen requested 
the visit to Saigon of a guided missile cruiser or destroyer type during the 
annual Independence Day celebration. Commander Everett A. Parke, the 
Naval Attache, considered a cruiser preferable from a public relations 
standpoint, but impractical because of limited port space and facilities at 
Saigon. He recommended a destroyer for the occasion, believing its 
presence "would strengthen respect and prestige of Vietnamese people 
toward the U.S. Navy" and bolster their morale. ^^ Soon afterward, 
CINCPACFLT nominated Mahan (DLG-11) for the task. This ship was 
. one of the most modern guided missile frigates in the fleet. During her 
visit, from 25 to 28 October, many Saigon inhabitants boarded Mahan to 
view at close hand her missiles and other weapons. The guests included 
President Diem and other high-ranking officials of the South Vietnamese 
and U.S. governments.^' 

At the end of November 1962, the Pacific Fleet began planning for an 
additional intelligence-gathering mission, this time by Weiss (APD-135), 
which would survey possible landing sites near Cape Vung Tau, Qui 

"^Msg, CP 280106Z Apr 1962. 

"'Msgs, ALUSNA Saigon 250640Z Jan 1962; CPFLT 070236Z Feb; ALUSNA Saigon 130030Z 
Mar; Bluegill 171053Z; ALUSNA Saigon 221009Z; CPFLT 242129Z; ALUSNA Saigon 260936Z; 
041020Z Apr; CPFLT 182159Z; CP 280I06Z. 

^'Msg, ALUSNA Saigon 290700Z Aug 1962. 

"Msgs, CPFLT 312346Z Aug 1962; COM7FLT 300726Z Oct. 

The Seventh Fleet's Contribution to the Limited Partnership 181 

o a w 

XT ,C ^ 






•I :=i 













a -5; -S! 
"^ ^ si 







182 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Nhon, Danang, and Bac Lieu. On 27 January 1963 Commander 
Amphibious Force, Seventh Fleet (Task Force 76), COMUSMACV, and 
Naval Attache, Saigon, representatives met to coordinate their actions. 
Intelligence reports indicated that the coastal areas were relatively quiet, 
although landing parties might encounter small arms or sniper fire. The 
conferees recommended that armed landing craft be positioned off the 
beaches and that only the UDTs carry weapons for defense ashore. The 
"frogmen" were to survey to the high-water line, but to proceed no 
further inland. However, Commander Seventh Fleet subsequently amend- 
ed these instructions to allow a Marine reconnaissance team "in areas of 
safe operation, [to] conduct hinterland reconnaissance... on beaches for 
which it would appear profitable. "^'^ 

On 21 February 1963, Weiss, with UDT 12's Detachment Bravo and a 
team from the 3rd Marine Reconnaissance Battalion on board, began 
survey operations near Danang. Three days later, while surveying a beach 
south of the port city, the Marine reconnaissance party received sniper 
fire. No casualties were sustained, and the entire shore party safely 
reembarked. The survey operation continued routinely as Weiss moved 
south along the coast. The one exception was the broaching in heavy surf 
of one of Weiss' s LCVPs, which suffered severe damage. 

About noon on 12 March, the inland Marine detachment once again 
came under small arms fire, this time in an area five miles east of Vinh 
Chau on the Mekong Delta coast. The estimated twelve to fifteen Viet 
Cong attackers made withdrawal from the beach difficult, but all U.S. 
personnel safely returned to Weiss by 1500. Because of the shallow water, 
the ship's boats were unable to aid the shore party, but fortunately the 
enemy troops did not press their attack. Naval leaders, however, were not 
so sure that luck would remain with Weiss for a third time. Admiral 
Griffin, now the Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Fleet Operations and 
Readiness), communicated his concerns to Admiral Sides from Washing- 

The many potentially inflammable incidents involving WEISS activities 
lead me to wonder if the programmed activities are worth the effort. 
Furthermore, we have a large mass of info concerning Vietnam coastline 
gathered over the years. Just a thought as seen from this end where little 
incidents sometimes assume big proportions."*^ 

■"^Msg, COM7FLT 060252Z Feb 1963. See also ADMIN CPFLT 300226Z Nov 1962; 120241Z 
Dec; CTF76 2909 19Z Jan 1963; 300709Z; 010620Z Feb; 011534Z; 020525Z. 

'"Msg, CNO 121439Z Mar 1962. 

The Seventh Fleet's Contribution to the Limited Partnership 183 

In light of Admiral Griffin's observation, and satisfied that Weiss had 
collected sufficient intelligence, Admiral Sides ended the mission. On 14 
March 1963, after refueling at Saigon, the ship got underway for Subic.'*® 

Naval Air Operations over South Vietnam 

A different type of naval mission grew out of reports in March 1962 of 
unidentified, low-flying, low-speed aircraft entering South Vietnamese air 
space at night near Pleiku in the Central Highlands. U.S. leaders feared 
that the Viet Cong might be receiving supplies from North Vietnam by 
this clandestine method. To deal with Communist air intrusions, the Joint 
Chiefs, in late March, directed the Navy and Air Force to determine the 
best U.S. aircraft to counter that threat and then to plan for the alternate 
basing of detachments of these units in Vietnam. The Navy soon 
determined that the AD-5Q Skyraider, equipped with a technologically 
advanced combination of APS-31 and APS- 19 radars, had the best means 
to detect, track, and close with air targets over both mountainous and flat 
terrain. But, the only aircraft of this type then available in the Western 
Pacific were embarked in Hancock, Lexington, and Coral Sea as detachments 
of Air Early Warning Squadron (VAW) 13. If these were removed, the 
Seventh Fleet's carriers would be denuded of the only airborne electronic 
countermeasures (ECM) systems available. For this reason. Commander 
Seventh Fleet objected "strongly to the use of these aircraft for any other 
mission until this ECM capability is in other aircraft.'"*' Admiral Sides 
concurred with this view, but because of high-level interest in the fate of 
South Vietnam, the project, named Waterglass, went forward. 

On 7 May 1962, Admiral Schoech ordered the establishment at Cubi 
Point, effective 1 5 May, of VAW 1 3 Detachment 1 , consisting of six AD- 
5Qs from Coral Sea and Hancock and support personnel, in order to train 
with Air Force ground-control radar. By early June, CINCPACFLT 
reported the VAW 13 detachment ready for deployment to South 

"^Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 62/00033 of 30 Jan 1963; msgs, CTF76 110950Z Feb; 
240137Z; Weiss 240225Z; 240300Z; 240535Z; CTF76 240753Z; ALUSNA Saigon 250700Z; Weiss 
260600Z; 260900Z; 2614 16Z; 040630Z Mar; 041200Z; 060600Z; CTF76 06024 5Z; Weiss 
090215Z; 120325Z; 120500Z; 120635Z; 120700Z; COMUSMACV 120802Z; CTF76 121148Z; 
WetsslAOAOQZ; OP-331C2, memo for record, of 24 Feb 1963; memo, OP-33 to OP-03, of 28 Feb. 

"'As reported in msg, CPFLT 212042Z Apr 1962. See also CPFLT 310249Z Mar 1962; JCS 
291629Z; CP 012100Z Apr; COMNAVAIRPAC 030253Z; 141932Z. 

184 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Vietnam. He proposed basing three aircraft for three weeks at an airfield 
near the area where air intruders were detected. Admiral Sides suggested 
Pleiku, if that airfield possessed night lighting, crew accommodations, and 
other ground support facilities. COMUSMACV, however, designated Tan 
Son Nhut Airfield outside Saigon as the operations base because he felt it 
better suited to the VAW 13 detachment's requirements. 

In mid-July, CINCPAC authorized his naval component commander to 
deploy this special AD-5Q interceptor team to South Vietnam for 
orientation, once a similar Air Force unit equipped with F-102 aircraft 
completed its own shakedown there. In the early morning hours of 10 
August 1962, the three AD-5Q aircraft of VAW 13 Detachment 1, under 
Lieutenant Wallace A. Shelton, the flight leader, landed at Tan Son Nhut, 
initiating the Navy's first direct effort to protect South Vietnamese air 
space. The naval air unit was placed under the operational control of 
COMUSMACV for the duration of the deployment. The vanguard soon 
was followed by the remainder of the unit of eleven officers and thirty- 
four enlisted men. The naval air unit normally had three teams on standby 
alert, one on routine duty, and one off duty. The AD-5Qs were 
"scrambled" and vectored to suspicious contacts by ground-control radar 
and by their on board systems. 

For the remainder of August and much of September, five naval pilot- 
radar operator teams refined their skills in intercepting unidentified 
aircraft. Since March 1962, U.S. aircraft had been authorized by the JCS 
to shoot down hostile aircraft discovered in South Vietnamese air space, in 
which case the victory could have been attributed to the RVNAF.^° 
Although no hostile Communist aircraft were identified by the time VAW 
13 Detachment 1 redeployed to Cubi Point on 21 September, after relief 
by an Air Force contingent, fleet commanders deemed the operation a 
success in preparing for such foes. Of 399 practice intercept attempts 
using American aircraft during the period of operations, 366, or 91 
percent, were judged successful; and U.S. military leaders were satisfied 
that the Navy's aircraft possessed unique attributes for the air intercept 
role. Admiral Felt stated: 

The EA-IF [AD-5Q] has proven to be highly suitable to the air defense 
mission in RVN. It has demonstrated a high intercept probability 

"CINCPAC, Command History, 1962, p. 189. 

The Seventh Fleet's Contribution to the Limited Partnership 185 

(consistently above 90 percent); it has flight performance characteristics 
compatible with pursuit and identification of slow targets; and is 
equipped with 4-20 mm cannon which can be fired accurately using 
[onboard] radar or visual sight. It can be effectively used on [combat air 
patrol] missions and can be deployed to airfields with minimum support 
facilities and short runways.^' 

Due to the apparent success of this operation in providing the South 
Vietnamese with a potential defense against or deterrent to Communist air 
intrusions, CINCPAC decided to continue the program. On 23 October 
he directed both services to deploy their respective detachments from the 
Philippines to South Vietnam on an alternating basis for six-week periods. 
Following the Air Force F-102 unit's deployment at the end of 1962, the 
Navy's AD-5Qs (now designated EA-IF) resumed their air alert position 
at Tan Son Nhut from 3 January to 17 February 1963. 

Although the Navy's Waterglass teams were scheduled to relieve the F- 
102 element on 1 May for another operational period in South Vietnam, 
Commander Seventh Fleet, now Vice Admiral Thomas H. Moorer, 
objected. The admiral felt that the "continued employment VAW-13 Det 
1 aircraft in Water Glass ops [was] detrimental [to] Seventh Fleet training 
and readiness."" The admiral also was concerned about the diversion of 
the fleet's attention and funds to train and deploy the EA-IF teams. 
Additionally, fleet training in ECM had of necessity been limited to the 
Philippines area, thereby depriving operational ships and aircraft in other 
parts of the Western Pacific of capabilities in this field. The admiral 
equally stressed the need for carrier-based ECM aircraft in view of the 
Soviet Union's increasing long-range air searches and noted that "no 
contact in RVN has ever proven hostile. "^^ 

At the end of February, Admiral Sides endorsed his fleet commander's 
proposal for termination of the Navy's participation in Waterglass. On 23 
March CINCPAC approved cancellation of the May-June naval deploy- 
ment, extending instead the Air Force unit's tour. But readiness for air 

^'Msg, CP 262132Z Jun 1963. See also msgs, JCS 270251Z Mar 1962; CPFLT 282223Z Apr; 
COM7FLT 072328Z May; ADMIN CPFLT 220242Z; 022151Z Jun; 110431Z Jul; CP 130145Z; 
ADMIN CPFLT 172158Z; COM7FLT 310908Z; PACAF 040213Z Aug; VAW 13 Det 1 071019Z; 
090637Z; 092209Z; COMUSMACV 100739Z; COM7FLT 140612Z; VAW 13 Det 1 240830Z; 
060837Z Sep; VAW 13 Det 1 210405Z; CP 260500Z; CPFLT 272133Z; CINCPAC, Command 
History, 1962, pp. 188-89. 

"Msg, COM7FLT 150202Z Feb 1963. 


United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 



An EA-IF Skyraider of Air Early Warning Squadron 13 at the Naval Air Station. Cuhi 
Point, Philippines, in early 1963. 

intercept missions continued to be a requirement, since Admiral Felt 
considered it possible that the Communists might resort to night air 
operations if the conflict escalated further. To ease the concerns of 
Commander Seventh Fleet, VAW 13 Detachment I's EA-IF complement 
was increased to seven aircraft in September. Two of these planes were 
configured for night intercept missions.'^ 

'"Msgs, ADMIN COM7FLT 290728Z Sep 1962; PACAF 022043Z Oct; CPFLT 121923Z; 
ADMIN COMNAVAIRPAC I31711Z; CP 230I15Z; 280002Z; PACAF 070026Z Feb 1963; CP 
120400Z; CPFLT 122034Z; COM7FLT 150202Z; CPFLT 202219Z; CP 242312Z; COM7FLT 
260750Z; CPFLT 270146Z; CPFLT 26030IZ Mar; COMUSMACV 26I006Z; CPFLT 050004Z 

The Seventh Fleet's Contribution to the Limited Partnership 187 

On 30 September 1963 CINCPAC informed COMUSMACV of his 
desire to reinstitute the alternating Navy-Air Force air intercept training 
program in South Vietnam on a random basis. With General Harkins's 
concurrence, Waterglass was restarted. Following the commitment of the 
Air Force F-102 teams for a rwo-week period in October, two EA-lFs of 
VAW 1 3 Detachment 1 deployed to Tan Son Nhut in late November for 
the last Waterglass mission. For one week, the naval aircraft resumed the 
operational training and readiness mission last conducted in February. 
Thus, the Navy instituted one more measure to prevent external 
Communist support for the Viet Cong movement." 

Other measures of naval air support were begun in the spring of 1962. 
In March CINCPACFLT was informed that photographic reconnaissance 
by naval aircraft was required to supplement ongoing Army and Air Force 
mapping programs. CINCPAC and the Naval Attache in Saigon urged 
quick action before the approaching seasonal monsoon cut short the 
effort. On 28 April Admiral Felt authorized the Navy's participation in 
the aerial photographic operation. Commander Seventh Fleet directed 
Heavy Photographic Squadron (VAP) 61, under Commander Donald B. 
Brady, to undertake the mission. During May the unit's RA-3B Skywarri- 
ors, flying from Cubi Point, photographed much of the area from Danang 
to the Demilitarized Zone. After a five-month respite, VAP 61 again 
conducted aerial mapping operations over South Vietnam from Novem- 
ber 1962 to February 1963. By then, about 90 percent of the project was 
completed. Soon thereafter, the entire squadron deployed to Guam for 
other assignments. ^"^ 

In summary, this era of limited partnership was characterized by the 
employment of American armed forces to support and complement the 
actions of their South Vietnamese counterparts. The Seventh Fleet surface 
and air patrols at the 17th parallel and in the Gulf of Siam, the air 
intercept readiness maintained by VAW 13 Detachment 1, and the 

Apr; ADMINO CP 130025Z; CNO 091929Z May; CP 262132ZJun; COMNAVAIRPAC 222242Z 
Aug; CPFLT 010508Z Sep; CNO, "Allowances and Location of Navy Aircraft," of 30 Sep 1963. 

"Msgs, CP 302345Z Sep 1963; ADMINO CP 262023Z Oct; CP 291935Z Nov. 

"^Msgs, ALUSNA Saigon 230937Z Mar 1962; CPFLT 240331Z; 180142Z Apr; ALUSNA Saigon 
230636Z; CPFLT 250221Z; 290739Z; CINCUSARPAC 182006Z Aug; CTU70.3.1 051413Z Sep; 
VAP 61 020401Z Oct; CTU70.3.1 170803Z Nov; CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1962, p. 37; 
VAP 61, Aviation Historical Summary, of 15 Oct 1962; 12 Apr 1963; 19 Oct; Itr, CINCPACFLT to 
CINCPAC, ser 23/00330 of 18 Apr 1962. 

188 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

delivery of U.S. helicopter units to Danang and Soc Trang by Princeton 
were in this vein. The Navy also took steps to prepare for future 
contingencies, whether these included a continuation of low-level warfare 
or the introduction of U.S. combat forces in strength. In that event, 
surveys by Cool?, and Weiss would provide the fleet with current intelli- 
gence on the physical environment. 

For the Kennedy administration and for the Navy, the period 1962 to 
1963 represented a significant transition in the Vietnam conflict. In the 
preceding era, from 1950 to 1961, U.S. involvement had consisted of 
advisory support and material assistance. Beginning in 1964 the activities 
of American combat forces — naval, air, and ground — overshadowed all 
other aspects of the war. The interim period from 1962 to 1963 witnessed 
an effort by the administration to provide the South Vietnamese with 
more than advice and aid, but to avoid the introduction of U.S. combat 


The Navy Enters the Fight Against 
Communist Insurgency 

As Seventh Fleet units assisted the South Vietnamese in traditional naval 
operations, other naval commands developed less conventional measures 
for combating the Communist insurgency. As a result of renewed high- 
level interest in counterinsurgency from late 1961 on, the Navy further 
developed its ability to participate in this type of conflict by creating and 
deploying to Southeast Asia SEAL, STAT, and PT boat units. In the same 
period, it reordered pertinent naval administrative responsibilities. 

Development of SEAL Teams 

Following final authorization by the CNO, Admiral Anderson, sixty- 
man SEAL units were established in the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets on 1 
January 1962. After its activation at Coronado, California, and assignment 
to Commander Amphibious Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, SEAL Team 1 
quickly prepared for Southeast Asian commitments. Under the guidance 
of Commander David Del Giudice, SEAL Team 1 began assimilating 
officer and enlisted volunteers, most of whom initially came from 
Underwater Demolition Teams 11 and 12. To establish liaison with the 
MAAG and to determine the specific requirements of the South Vietnam- 
ese environment, two officers from the unit spent part of January and 
February in-country. One of the team's first missions was to provide 
guerrilla warfare training to personnel of Mobile Training Team 7, who 
were scheduled for advisory duty with the South Vietnamese River Force. 
At the same time, the training of SEAL personnel was given a high 
priority, since it was necessary to prepare detachments for deployment to 
Southeast Asia within eight to ten weeks. These men received instruction 
through the Pacific Fleet amphibious command in special forces tech- 


190 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

niques, evasion and escape, jungle warfare, unconventional warfare 
equipment use, and river and restricted waters operations.' 

By the end of February, with half of its officers and all the enlisted men 
on board, SEAL Team 1 finalized plans to deploy detachments to South 
Vietnam. On 10 March two instructors arrived in Saigon to begin a six- 
month tour training South Vietnamese personnel in clandestine, maritime 
operations. Soon after the end of this tour, another was instituted. From 
January to December 1963, a SEAL detachment of two officers and ten 
men based in Danang continued training South Vietnamese personnel in 
small boat operations, sabotage, landing techniques, and other related 

In April 1962, Mobile Training Team 10-62, composed of one officer. 
Lieutenant (j.g.) Philip P. Holts, and nine men from both SEAL Team 1 
and SEAL Team 2, reported to General Lionel C. McGarr, the Chief 
MAAG Vietnam, to commence a half-year training cycle. The SEAL 
Team's purpose was to train selected Vietnamese Coastal Force personnel 
in reconnaissance, sabotage, and guerrilla warfare; and to prepare them to 
instruct succeeding classes of "Biet Hai" commandos. By October, sixty- 
two men had graduated from the grueling course. With completion of the 
follow-on six-month cycle by Mobile Training Team 4-63, commanded by 
Lieutenant (j.g.) Alan C. Routh, the Vietnamese were able to assume most 
of the training mission performed by the SEALs.^ 

As experience was gained on the likely activities of the SEALs, steps 
were taken to codify the tactics and techniques of these naval special 
warfare forces. At the end of December 1962, the Assistant Chief of 
Naval Operations (Fleet Operations and Readiness), Rear Admiral Allan 
L. Reed, issued "SEAL Teams in Naval Special Warfare," Naval Warfare 

'Msgs, CP 090409ZJan 1962; CNO 091955Z; CPFLT 171857Z; CNO 241707Z; CP 242341Z 
Feb; Itrs, CINCPACFLT to CINCPAC, ser 62/0035 of 12 Jan; CINCPACFLT to CINCLANTFLT, 
ser 31/00220 of 9 Mar; SEAL Team 1, Command History, 1966; Phillip H. Bucklew, transcript of 
interview with John T. Mason, Jr., U.S. Naval Institute, in Fairfax, Virginia, 1980, pp. 360-65; 
Hamilion/Marcinko, Interview. 

^OIC MTT 10-62, report, of 22 Sep 1962; CINCPAC, Command History, 1962, p. 197; Lionel 
Krisel, "Special Maritime Operations in Vietnam, 1961-1972." unpublished histor)' in Naval 
Historical Center, 1973, pp. 73-75; memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM00199-62 of 12 Feb 1962; Itr, 
OP-61 to SECNAV, ser 1640P61 of 9 Mar; msg, CPFLT 210012Z; Itr, CINCPACFLT to CINCPAC, 
ser 62/00299 of 10 Apr; SECDEF, "Record of Third Secretary of Defense Conference, 19 Feb 
1962," p. 3-18; Charles Donald Griffin, transcript of interview withjohn T. Mason, Jr., U.S. Naval 
Institute, in Washington, D.C., Dec 1975, Vol. II, pp. 522-24; SEAL Team 2, Command History, 
1962-1966, ser 019 of 31 May 1967. 

The Nary Enters the Fight Against Communist Insurgency 


USN- 1120449 

One of the Navy's highly trained SEAL commandos searches for the Viet Cong in South 
Vietnam 's dense Rung Sat swamp. 

Information Publication 29-1, which embodied the experience gained in 
South Vietnam and elsewhere during the preceding year. It remained the 
basic directive for SEAL operations for much of the Vietnam War. As was 
true when the concept was first developed in mid- 1961, the primary 
mission of the SEAL team was to "develop a specialized capability for 
sabotage, demolition, and other clandestine activities conducted in and 
from restricted waters, rivers, and canals and to conduct training of 
selected U.S., Allied, and indigenous personnel in a wide variety of skills 

192 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

for use in naval clandestine operations."' 

The publication further defined SEAL tasks as conducting attacks on 
enemy maritime installations, bridges, railway lines, and shipping; protect- 
ing similar friendly supply lines and installations; landing and recovering 
friendly guerrillas, agents, special forces, and downed aviators; carrying 
out reconnaissance; and developing boats, equipment, and tactics for 
special warfare. In addition to being used as waterborne units, SEAL 
detachments also would be prepared to land from submarines or surface 
craft, parachute from aircraft, and move overland by traditional methods. 
They would be lightly armed and as "small and highly mobile units 
[would] confine most logistic support items to those which are portable 
and are carried by the individual, craft, or vehicle."^ Also detailed were 
operating procedures for the planning, preparation, and employment of 
SEALs in all phases of warfare. However, the emphasis clearly was on the 
type of counterinsurgency situation existing in South Vietnam. 

SEABEE Technical Assistance Teams Enter Southeast Asia 

In addition to SEALs, naval leaders had considered creation of SEABEE 
technical assistance teams (STATs) since mid- 1961. As a consequence of 
the administration's renewed focus on counterinsurgency forces, on 19 
February 1962, Admiral Anderson authorized establishment of these 
units. They would "provide technical assistance in both socio-economic 
and military construction areas... gather field and engineering intelli- 
gence," and "provide military and engineering support for other U.S. or 
friendly forces" in selected countries.' 

By May 1962, CINCPACFLT had plans to staff, organize, and train 
four teams by 1 October for deployment to Southeast Asia. Initially, two 
of these units were slated for South Vietnam. Admiral Sides, the Pacific 
Fleet commander, planned to prepare an additional six teams by 1 
February 1963. These units were manned by members of the Pacific 
Fleet's five mobile construction battalions and each would consist of 13 
individuals, including 1 Civil Engineer Corps junior grade officer (officer 

'OP-03, "SEAL Teams in Naval Special Warfare," NWIP-29-1, of 27 Dec 1962, pp. 1-1— 1-2. See 
also CINCPACFLT, Itr, ser 00482 of U Jun 1962; Hamilton/Marcinko, Interview. 
'OP-03, NWIP-29-1, pp. 1-4, 1-2—1-3. 
'Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 45/00415 of 18 May 1962 cites this directive. 

The Nary Enters the Fight Against Communist Insurgency 193 

in charge), 2 builders, 1 engineering aide, 1 steelworker, 2 construction 
mechanics, 1 construction electrician, 3 equipment operators, 1 utilities 
man, and 1 hospital corpsman. Admiral Sides sought highly motivated and 
skilled men who were prepared to volunteer for STAT service for a 
minimum period of sixteen months. Intensive training, which was to 
commence in June 1962 at the Construction Battalion Base Unit, Port 
Hueneme, California, consisted of language indoctrination and instruction 
in the customs, technological state, and general characteristics of the 
countries where the men would serve. 

Admiral Sides also recognized that the new program would require 
officers from outside the Pacific Fleet to conduct the training at Port 
Hueneme and fill vacated billets in the mobile construction battalions. In 
addition, extra funds were needed to equip the teams. It would cost $1.2 
million to provide each of the STATs with a basic allowance of personal 
gear, weapons and ammunition, radios, camp components, tools, vehicles, 
and trailers. Heavier construction equipment, fuel, rations, vehicles, and 
spare parts suited to specific tasks, entailed an additional outlay of 
$800,000. Even though Admiral Sides recognized that "complete equi- 
page and material requirements must be deferred until funds become 
available,"'' the Pacific Fleet's Service Force was directed to implement the 
STAT program. 

A number of factors caused delay in the deployment of the first units to 
South Vietnam. Funding problems remained serious, as did the shortage 
of qualified personnel. Another difficulty arose over possible areas of 
deployment. Captain Drachnik, the head of the Navy Section of the 
MA AG in Saigon, initially requested STAT construction assistance for the 
South Vietnamese Navy. But Rear Admiral Ray C. Needham, CINC- 
PACFLT Chief of Staff, felt that Drachnik's proposals offered "little 
opportunity to accomplish the objectives of the STAT programs" and 
were "of such scope as to exceed the direct construction capability of a 

At the same time, Captain Jesse B. Gay, Jr., the CINCPACFLT Deputy 
Chief of Staff, directed Commander Construction Battalions, U.S. Pacific 
Fleet, to effect liaison with the military assistance command in South 
Vietnam, as well as in other countries, to determine the exact nature of 

'Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 45/00415 of 18 May 1962. 
'Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CINCPAC, ser 45/00802 of 27 Sep 1962. 

194 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

STAT employment. Captain Gay advised subordinate commands that the 
"development of appropriate projects will require initiative on the part of 
the U.S. Navy to make the unique capabilities and mission of the STATs 
known to in-country U.S. personnel who are in a position to recommend 
suitable areas of employment."* He also cautioned that 

great care must b>e exercised to insure that projects undertaken reflect 
credit on the United States. They must make a meaningful contribution 
to the counterinsurgency efforts or civic actions in the country 
concerned so that the time, effort, and money expended on the training 
and equipping of the STAT will not be wasted on projects that might 
better be accomplished by some other means.' 

Still acting on the assumption that the units would be deployed after 1 
October, the CINCPACFLT Deputy Chief of Staff also directed 
Commander Construction Battalions, U.S. Pacific Fleet, to be prepared by 
that date to begin the six-month rotation of teams to their operational 
areas. However, continued funding problems and the effort to determine 
STAT missions delayed movement to Southeast Asia of the now fully 
trained and ready teams. 

The fiscal hurdle was surmounted when arrangements were made by 
MACV for another U.S. government agency to provide the STATs with 
interim funding support. And by the end of the year. Navy and MACV 
representatives concluded that the STATs were singularly qualified to take 
part in the Civilian Irregular Defense Group (CIDG) program. This effort 
was an attempt to group Vietnamese and Montagnards inhabiting remote 
regions of the country into more easily defended villages. U.S. Army 
Special Forces detachments were responsible for overseeing the defense of 
these outposts, but they needed assistance to construct fortifications, 
develop water supplies and irrigation systems, improve roads, and erect 
schools, hospitals, and dwellings. This was seen as an ideal use of STAT 
capabilities. In November CINCPAC ordered STATs 0501 and 0502 to 

*Ltr, CINCPACFLT to COMCBPAC, ser 45/00786 of 20 Sep 1962. 

"Ltr, CINCPACFLT to COMCBPAC, ser 45/00^86 of 20 Sep 1962. See also memo, OP-405 to 
OP-04, ser 00022P405 of 2^ Apr; Itrs, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 45/00582 of 13 Jul; 
CINCPACFLT to CINPAC, ser 45/00583 of 13 Jul; OSD, '■Minutes of the 16 July 1962 Staff 
Meeting," of 26 Jul; msg, CPFLT 242352Z Aug; Itr, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 45/00750 of 8 Sep; 
msg, CP 110435Z Sep. 

The Navy Enters the Fight Against Communist Insurgency 


SEABEE Team Deployments in Central South Vietnam, 1963-1964 

deploy to South Vietnam for this purpose. '° 

On 25 January 1963, the first of the Navy's technical assistance teams 
organized and trained for the Kennedy administration's "nation building" 
tasks arrived in South Vietnam. This was STAT 0501 from Naval Mobile 
Construction Battalion 5, under the command of Lieutenant (j.g.) Robert 
L. Ferriter, which initially was assigned to the Special Forces camp at Dam 
Pau in Tuyen Due Province. For the next several months, the team 

'"Ltrs, CINCPACFLT to COMCBPAC, ser 45/00786 of 20 Sep 1962; CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 
45/00853 of 12 Oct; memo, OP-04 to OP-06, ser 001215P401 of 5 Nov; Itrs, CINCPACFLT to 
CNO, ser 45/00977 of 21 Nov; CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 45/0022 of 10 Jan 1963; msgs, CP 
120155Z Jan; CINCUSARPAC 232122Z Feb. 

196 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

labored at such tasks as improving and nearly doubling the length of the 
800-foot airstrip, clearing forty-five acres of jungle for farm land, 
upgrading twenty miles of roadway, and teaching villagers how to 
produce simple concrete blocks. In mid-March STAT 0501 redeployed to 
even more remote Darlac Province in order to reopen fourteen miles of 
abandoned road from Ban Ti Srenh, their temporary site, to the Special 
Forces camp at Buon Mi Ga. By mid-July the road project was completed 
and the team capped the effort by constructing at the terminus a Special 
Forces "A team" camp for the better protection of the local Rhade 

Lieutenant Clyde V. Popowich's STAT 0502 was based in a completely 
different operating environment far to the south in Tri Ton, Chau Doc 
Province, near the "Seven Mountains" area on the Cambodian border. 
This Mekong Delta location was heavily populated with the enemy, and 
the team underwent periodic attacks and harassment. Soon after the 
thirteen-man detachment's arrival in January, the Viet Cong revealed their 
recognition of the STAT's potential by killing and mutilating a village 
elder who had provided the team with laborers. Nevertheless, STAT 
0502 succeeded in upgrading or constructing over forty miles of road, 
which included work on four bridges and twenty-two culverts, and in 
building a helicopter pad and an 1,800-foot airstrip for the "Green 
Berets." The team also aided the populace by drilling water wells, 
constructing a dam, and grading the site of a proposed refugee settlement. 

The delicacy of the STAT program was clearly revealed in one instance. 
To ease the lot of the people in one village, the SEABEEs began drilling a 
well. Formerly, water could be obtained only at the local Buddhist 
pagoda, a situation which had enabled the monks to oversee the spiritual 
development of the villagers. The religious leaders evidently were 
disturbed over the new course of events. Recognizing the monks' 
importance in countering Communist influence, Lieutenant Popowich 
quickly suspended work on the village well, and, with the monks' relieved 
assent, sank a new one within the temple grounds. As a final effort, STAT 
0502 built a Special Forces camp at Don Chau on the coast in Vinh Binh 
Province. As evidence that the deployment had been fraught with peril. 
Lieutenant Popowich was awarded the Bronze Star with Combat "V." 

On I July 1963, a final solution to the funding problem was reached 
when the STATs were put under the operational control of Commander 
U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (COMUSMACV). At the 

The Nary Enters the Fight Against Communist Insurgency 197 

same time, STATs 0301 and 0302 from Naval Mobile Construction 
Battalion 3 relieved the first teams deployed to Southeast Asia. Lieutenant 
(j.g.) Richard Wisenbaker's STAT 0301 was assigned to construct a 
Special Forces camp at Bon Sar Pa, two miles from the Cambodian border 
in a mountainous, densely wooded, and exposed corner of Darlac 
Province. The team was subjected to a light probing attack by the Viet 
Cong, on the morning of 16 September, but fortunately no casualties were 
sustained. In addition to the fortified encampment, STAT 0301 built a 
2,000-foot airstrip, drilled a well, improved local roads, and erected a 
two-room schoolhouse. The team's hospital corpsman, T. L. Veatch, 
provided the Montagnards with medical attention and sanitation instruc- 
tion. A detachment from Lieutenant Wisenbaker's unit also constructed an 
1,800-foot airstrip and sank a 1 10-foot well at Bu Prang. After road work 
in the vicinity of Ban Don at the end of the year, STAT 0301 moved to 
Ban Me Thuot, the provincial capital. Completing a 1,500-foot taxiway at 
the airfield, the SEABEE team departed the country on 18 January 1964. 

As part of the same deployment, STAT 0302, under the command of 
Lieutenant (j.g.) James H. Abing, arrived in Saigon on 7 July 1963 and 
relieved STAT 0502. After the equipment turnover was completed, 
separate detachments of the team moved to Plei Mrong and Polei Krong. 
Both were north of Pleiku city in the Central Highlands. At the former 
location, team members built structures for South Vietnamese paramilitary 
forces and for a leper colony, and conducted road and bridge repairs. At 
Polei Krong even greater demands were placed on the naval construction- 
men. While STAT 0302 constructed a 1,500-foot airstrip and a 114-foot 
bridge, Vietnamese personnel were given on-the-job training and local 
laborers were provided employment. The Viet Cong were not idle either. 
On 1 October the enemy destroyed a 38-meter bridge that was half- 
finished. A South Vietnamese river ferry also twice fell victim to the 
stealthy foe. However, the SEABEEs were able each time to refloat it. 

After completing their tasks at Plei Mrong and Polei Krong, Lieutenant 
Abing's team reassembled in the provincial capital, and on 21 October 
1963 moved to a third site, Plei Me. Action around this village in 1965 
was to ignite one of the fiercest battles of the war — that of the la Drang 
Valley. In order to reach this site with the necessary earth movers and 
construction equipment. Lieutenant Abing and the twelve men of his team 
had to repair the road as they moved forward. Escorted by Special Forces 
soldiers and 300 South Vietnamese irregulars, STAT 0302 completed the 

198 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

two-day convoy south into the jungled region. By early December 
another characteristically shaped triangular CIDG camp had been con- 

Once again, the SEABEE detachment was called upon to build a camp 
for the Special Forces, this time at Plei Ta Nangle, south of An Khe. 
During the move to Pleiku, one of the SEABEE trucks detonated a Viet 
Cong mine and was heavily damaged, but no casualties were suffered. On 
6 December STAT 0302 convoyed from Pleiku through the famed Mang 
Yang Pass and southeast on Route 19 to An Khe. Then, the combined 
force pushed south toward their destination on a long unused, and now 
barricaded and booby-trapped road. While engaged in clearing hazards. 
Chief Utilityman James W. Cigainero, assistant officer in charge of the 
team, became the first SEABEE casualty in the Vietnam conflict when he 
stepped into one of the simple but effective Viet Cong punji traps and 
received leg wounds. After constructing the fortified encampment and 
clearing land for an airstrip, the much traveled unit returned to Pleiku and 
departed South Vietnam in January 1964." 

Even as STATs 0301 and 0302 relieved the original teams, 0501 and 
0502, in July 1963, proposals were made to deploy an additional two units 
to South Vietnam. Largely through the efforts of Mr. Ogden Williams, 
Assistant Director for Rural Affairs in the United States Operations 
Mission (USOM), plans were made to use these SEABEE technical 
assistance teams in support of the foreign aid program, instead of the 
Special Forces. With less emphasis on military construction, the STATs 
could then be available for civic action and village socio-economic 
projects. Accordingly, COMUSMACV recommended deployment of two 
additional teams, for a total of four in-country at any one time, and the 
assignment of the new units to USOM's Rural Rehabilitation Program, 
better known as the Strategic Hamlet Program, which received funding 
from the Agency for International Development (AID). CINCPAC, who 

"COMCBPAC, Detachment RVN, •Completion Repon, 1963-1972, " of 30 May 1972, pp. 1-3, 
3-3; COMCBPAC, ■Helping Others Help Themselves,' of 13 Jan 1969, pp. 4, 29-35; Francis J. 
Kelley, U.S. Army Special Forces. WOl-Wl , in series Vietnam Studies (Washington: Department of the 
Army/GPO, 1973), pp. 35-44; msgs, CP 082158Z Jun 1963; COMUSMACV 051O44Z Mar; Itrs, 
CINCPACFLT, ser 45/00350 of 16 Apr; CINCPACFLT to CINPAC, ser 32/00693 of 9 Aug; 
CBTEAM 050 1 , Completion Report, ser 30 of 1 5 Jul; CBTEAM 0302, Completion Report, ser 8 of 2 
Nov; CBTEAM 0501, Completion Report, ser 103 of 17 Jan 1964; Charles J. Merdinger, "Civil 
Engineers, Seabees, and Bases in Vietnam," L.S Natal Institute Naval Review (May 1970), pp. 258-59; 
Cigainero, UTC James W., Casualty Report of 27 Dec 1963; Tregaskis, Southeast Asia, pp. 60-61. 

The Navy Enters the Fight Against Communist Insurgency 199 

was aware of the successes of the STATs in Southeast Asia, authorized the 
increased use of the SEABEE teams on the condition that the necessary 
billets be filled from MACV and not CINCPACFLT resources. He added 
that stipulation because at that time U.S. military and political leaders 
were considering the return to the United States in October 1963 of 
1,000 U.S. military personnel. General Harkins complied with the 
reallocation of personnel within his command and, as a result, on 1 
September Admiral Felt authorized the provision of two more STATs to 
operate in more populated areas. '^ 

In mid-October, STATs 1001 and 1002 of Naval Mobile Construction 
Battalion 10 arrived in South Vietnam and quickly deployed to their 
assigned operating areas. The former team, under the command of 
Lieutenant (j.g.) Vincent L. Kontny, set up headquarters in Quang Ngai 
city on the Annam coast. In keeping with the reemphasized civic action 
role, STAT 1001 provided Vietnamese hospitals, orphanages, and schools 
with badly needed maintenance and repair work. Still operating from 
Quang Ngai, the team then participated in a hamlet construction project 
south of the city in Due Pho. There Lieutenant Kontny's men drilled 
wells, built bridges, and graded local roads and footpaths for the 
inhabitants. Steps were also taken to help the government reassert its 
control of the population through pacification measures. Once areas of the 
Due Pho District were swept by South Vietnamese forces, STAT 1001 
moved in to repair roads and bridges destroyed by the enemy. By 13 
February 1964, thirteen bridges with a combined span of 325 feet were 
reconstructed. At the same time. Hospital Corpsman 1st Class T. G. 
Gardner, the team corpsman, provided the Vietnamese with badly needed 
medical attention, especially during one of the country's periodic cholera 

STAT 1002, which deployed to Hue, engaged in similar activities in 
and around the old imperial capital. In addition to road and bridge repair 
and well-sinking work, the team, led by Lieutenant (j.g.) Warren M. 
Garbe, cleared land and constructed airstrips. The socio-economic aspect 
of the STAT's mission was maintained especially by the provision of 
medical assistance and the erection of a school and a dispensary. When 

'^COMCBPAC, "Helping Others Help Themselves," p. 35; msgs, CP 102329Z Jul 1963; 
COMUSMACV 300824Z; CP 060258Z Aug; 170147Z; COMUSMACV 291209Z; CP 010506Z 
Sep; CPFLT 01I944Z; CINCPAC, Command History, 1963, pp. 236, 247. 

200 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

STATs 1001 and 1002 ended their South Vietnamese tour in April 1964, 
government influence over the daily lives of the people in the respective 
operating areas was enhanced, to some extent, as a result of the units' 

With the SEABEE effort in South Vietnam expanding in the fall of 
1963, steps were taken to bring more centralized naval direction to the 
program. On 30 September CINCPACFLT established the billet of 
Commander Naval Construction Battalions, U.S. Pacific Fleet Detach- 
ment, Republic of Vietnam. Thereafter, operational control of the STATs 
was exercised by COMUSMACV and command by Commander Service 
Force, U. S. Pacific Fleet, through Commander Construction Battalions, 
U.S. Pacific Fleet. To facilitate liaison, the SEABEE Vietnam detachment 
headquarters was co-located in Saigon with the Deputy Officer in Charge 
of Construction. Lieutenant Commander John A. Wright (CEC), an early 
proponent of the STAT concept, became the first officer in charge of the 
South Vietnam detachment.'"* 

After one year in the field, the SEABEE technical assistance teams 
impressed U.S. political and military leaders with their contribution to the 
counterinsurgency effort. General Harkins summarized the views of many 
observers in commenting that "the magnitude and quality of the work of 
the STATs... has shown conclusively that small military engineering units 
properly equipped, manned, and trained are extremely valuable in every 
phase of unconventional warfare."" 

The Initiation of Maritime Operations 
Against North Vietnam 

As the Navy worked to counteract the Communist insurgency in South 
Vietnam, U.S. leaders gave greater attention to covert, clandestine 
operations against North Vietnam. As early as November I960, Admiral 
Felt gave consideration to striking the enemy in his rear bases in order to 

'■COMCBPAC. "Helping Others Help Themselves," pp. 30, 35-36; CBTEAM 1001, Completion 
Report, ser 133 of 15 Apr 1964; CBTEAM 1002, Completion Report, ser 62 of 22 Apr; Tregaskis, 
Southeast Asia, pp. 60-61. 

'"COMCBPAC, "Helprng Others Help Themselves," p. 28; COMCBPAC, Detachment RVN, 
Completion Report, pp. 1-4, 2-3, 3-3. 

'^Quoted in Naval History Division, "History of Naval Operations in Vietnam, 1946-1963," 
unpublished history in Naval Historical Center, 1964, pp. 205-06. 

The Navy Enters the Fight Against Communist Insurgency 201 

upset "some Communist apple carts. "'^ Following the benchmark Bay of 
Pigs and Laos crises in April 1961, U.S. -trained South Vietnamese 
personnel carried out increasingly energetic covert actions against North 
Vietnam. In keeping with the "flexible response" concept of the Kennedy 
administration, North Vietnamese guerrilla warfare and subversive activi- 
ty demanded and justified like countermeasures. The number of U.S. 
personnel engaged in training and supervising the Vietnamese in these 
operations was increased and now included military advisors from the 
MAAG. By the end of 1961, South Vietnamese motorized junks, carrying 
agents and supplies, were delivering their cargo to points in North 
Vietnam at least once each month." 

As a result of the dramatic decisions made following the Taylor visit to 
South Vietnam and the institution of the "limited partnership," the nature 
and degree of U.S. participation in covert operations changed in early 
1962. The operation received high-level support when the Special Group 
(Counterinsurgency), composed of senior White House, State Depart- 
ment, Defense Department, JCS, CIA, and other representatives, was 
established on 18 January. The group was charged with ensuring the unity 
of U.S. and allied efforts to combat insurgency and indirect aggression. 

Considering new approaches to the Southeast Asian problem, CINC- 
PAC observed that the North Vietnamese were particularly susceptible to 
covert action: 

When Ho Chi Minh acquired full title to former French assets in North 
Vietnam he also logically acquired the vulnerability which such assets 
represent. Power plants, railroads, bridges, VIP residences, and the like 
— all represent relatively vulnerable holdings totally unknown to Viet 
Minh before 1954. We should exploit this vulnerability. So far, DRV 
has been enjoying the best of two worlds — conventionality in the North 
and uninhibited terrorism in the South.'® 

"^Msg, CP of 2 Nov 1960. 

'^CNO, memo for record, ser 00020-61 of 28 Aug 1961; memo, OP-60 tojoim Staff (J-3), JCS, ser 
0020P60 of 8Jan 1962; msgs, CP 111920Z Dec 1961; CTU70.5.7 270611Z; 090530ZJan 1962; 
OSD 102358Z; CPFLT 172042Z; CP 192142Z; ADMIN COM7FLT 211356Z; CP 050548Z Feb; 
Krisel, "Special Maritime Operations in Vietnam," pp. 55, 58-62, 66-67; William Colby, Honorable 
Men: My Life m the CIA (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978), pp. 172-75, 219; William E. Colby , 
transcript of interview with Edward J. Marolda, Naval Historical Center, in Washington, D.C., 9 Jun 
1980, pp. 1-10. 

'^Msg, CP 250501Z Apr 1962. 

202 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Admiral Felt added that in any proposed actions against North Vietnam, 

we should strive for a direct cause-and-effect relationship. A mining of 
Dong Ha-Saigon railroad ideally would be followed within a week by 
slightly larger destruction of the DRV Lao Kay-Hanoi line .... In a 
case such as a VC ambush of a GVN convoy, where retaliation in kind is 
impossible, a submarine transported commando raid on some DRV 
coastal facility would serve the purpose .... By utilizing our superiority 
in means of transporting clandestine operators via [aircraft] and 
submarines against which DRV has little or no defensive capability and 
by use of special techniques such as UDT forces." 

Admiral Felt believed that the North Vietnamese would become so 
concerned about the loss of material resources and the possibility of an 
insurrection developing that they would ease pressure on the South. 

Many of these recommendations were echoed in Admiral Anderson's 
proposals of July 1962 for a policy on Communist activities in Southeast 
Asia. The CNO recommended a "campaign of harassment" against North 
Vietnam if the Communists persisted in their support of insurgency. The 
program would be implemented in relation to the Communist reaction: 
"Step up the harassment campaign as Viet Cong activities increase and 
slow it down as the Viet Cong slow down .... Select harassment measures 
which most nearly represent retaliation in kind, on a higher scale. "^° 

Specific actions already had been taken to implement CINCPAC's 
proposals. Psychological warfare broadcasts over clandestine radios and 
leaflet drops into North Vietnam were conducted, as was infiltration of 
South Vietnamese reconnaissance teams. U.S. planners then chose a target 
for sabotage that utilized the great advantage afforded by the U.S. Navy's 
control of the sea. Preparations were made to land in North Vietnam, 
from a motorized junk, specially trained South Vietnamese "frogmen" in 
order to sink a Swatow class gunboat. Prior to this action, a U.S. 
submarine would remain submerged at the entrance to likely Swatow 
bases and report the vessels' arrivals and departures. On 16 May 
CINCPAC ordered his fleet commander to provide a submarine for the 
intended operation, named Wise Tiger. Catfish (SS-339) was directed to 
proceed to the mouth of the Giang River in order to observe maritime 
activity around the Swatow base at Quang Khe. Equipped with a special 

"Msg, CP 250501Z Apr 1962. See also CINCPAC, Command History, 1962, p. 48. 
^"Memo. CNO to JCS, ser 000762P60 of 13 Jul 1962. 

The Navy Enters the Fight Against Communist Insurgency 203 

communications circuit, the submarine was to remain in international 
waters no closer than three miles from shore and signal information on the 
Swatows and other vessels. At the beginning of the last week in May, 
Catfish set out from Manila on her sensitive mission. However, there is no 
evidence that a Swatow was sunk in succeeding months as a result of this 

Although the existing CIA-directed program against North Vietnam 
had CINCPAC's strong support, various problems arose to limit its 
effectiveness. The motorized junks and other craft used in the maritime 
operation were proving inadequate for the rigorous forays into northern 
waters, since they were neither fast enough nor sufficiently armed. 
CINCPAC soon became dissatisfied with the conduct of the operation as 
well. Admiral Felt believed that the CIA's planners in Saigon were not 
suitably trained to mount a naval mission of this type or make use of the 
Navy's resources, in particular submarines and SEALs. In September, the 
admiral observed to COMUSMACV that the "program should have been 
under full head of steam a long time ago."^' 

But, steps already had been taken to inject U.S. naval support and 
equipment into maritime operations. In late August, COMUSMACV 
proposed the use of U.S. motor torpedo boats, supported by a naval 
logistic unit based in Danang, for the runs to the North. Non-Americans 
would form crews for the boats. This concept was forwarded to 
Washington for high-level consideration.^^ On 27 September 1962, the 
administration's Special Group (5412) formally suggested the use of PTs, 
as well as SEALs, in covert operations against North Vietnam. 

The following week, on 6 October, Deputy Secretary of Defense 
Gilpatric directed the Navy to reactivate by January 1963 two aluminum- 
hulled motor torpedo boats, both of which were built in 1950. In 
response, the CNO ordered the Chief, Bureau of Ships to prepare for sea 
PT-810 and PT-81 1, then mothballed at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard. 
The boats would each be armed with two 40-millimeter guns and two 20- 
millimeter guns, and would be rigged for quiet operations. 

^'Msg, CP 040745Z Sep 1962. See also Democratic Republic of Vietnam, Facts and Figures 
Concerning U.S. and U.S. Agents ' Sabotage Activities in North Vietnam (Hanoi: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 

"Msgs, JCS 281850Z Apr 1962; CP 140912Z May; 160032Z; ADMIN CPFLT 162209Z; 
COMSUBFLOT 7 210415Z; 220543Z; CP 040745Z Sep; 060013Z; 082355Z; Krisel, "Special 
Maritime Operations in Vietnam," pp. 72-79; CINCPAC, Command History, 1962, pp. 177-78; 
Colby, Honorable Men, pp. 219-20; Colby, Interview, pp. 10-12. 

204 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

While the Secretary of Defense believed this measure to be "a step in 
the right direction," he also felt there was a need to "get us moving ahead 
more rapidly in developing this operational support capability."^' Accord- 
ingly, he expressed his 

desire that priority attention also be given to the procurement of 
foreign-made craft of the PT boat category. Specifically, unless you have 
objections or considerations of preference with which I am not familiar, 
I desire that you take immediate action to procure two boats of the 
Norwegian Navy's NASTY class .... General Lansdale, my Assistant 
for Special Operations, has been directed to monitor this undertaking 
and to provide such additional information as may be required. ^"^ 

During the winter of 1962-1963, the small boat force resulting from 
these directives assembled on the East Coast and prepared for fleet 
service. PT-810 and PT-81 1, redesignated PTF-1 and PTF-2, respectively, 
were reactivated and refitted with more serviceable equipment and with 
the prescribed weapons. Sea trials, however, soon revealed that further 
work was needed on the boats. PTF-1 developed an engine malfunction 
and a fuel leak into the engine compartment. PTF-2 also was found to 
have a faulty exhaust system. Necessary repairs at the Philadelphia Naval 
Shipyard and the presence of ice in the Delaware River delayed the boats' 
departure for service with Commander Amphibious Force, U.S. Atlantic 
Fleet at Little Creek, Virginia, until spring. 

Two Nastys, purchased by the Navy from Norway, arrived in the 
United States early in 1963 and almost immediately began crew familiar- 
ization, sea trials, and refitting with American equipment. By 3 May, both 
boats, designated PTF-3 and PTF-4, were placed in service at Little 

-"Memo, SECDEF to SECNAV, of 12 Oct 1962. See also memos, VCNO to SECNAV, ser 054134 
of 22 Mar 1962; OP-03 to CNO, ser 00023-63 of 25 Jan 1963; DOD, News Release, No. 1879-62 
of 19 Nov 1962. 

^''Memo, SECDEF to SECNAV, of 12 Oct 1962. 

"Ltrs, CNO to CHBUSHIPS, ser 0326P46 of 16 Oct 1962; ser 0100P03B1 of 18 Oct; Director, 
Navy Department Program Evaluation Center, ser 00215PEC of 23 Nov; memo, CHBUSHIPS to 
BUSHIPS 3 Jan 1963 — 6 May 1963; memo, OP-03 to OP-09, ser 00023-63 of 25 Jan;./jf/f j Fighung 
Ships. 1968-1969, Raymond V. B. Blackman, ed. (London; McGraw-Hill, 1970), pp. 430-31; Krisel, 
"Special Maritime Operations in Vietnam," pp. 80-81; Michael L. Mulford, transcript of interview 
with Edward J. Marolda, Naval Historical Center in Washington, DC, 21 Apr 1983. 

The Nary Enters the Fight Against Communist Insurgency 205 

To publicize the capabilities of the newly assembled PTF force, on 30 
April the CNO directed his Atlantic Fleet commander to dispatch one of 
the Norwegian boats to Washington for a three-day visit. On 1 3 May PTF- 
3, under the command of Lieutenant (j.g.) John R. Graham, arrived at the 
Washington Navy Yard. The press was informed that the boats were 
"designed to perform amphibious support and coastal operations" and 
also for use "by the Navy's Sea-Air-Land (SEAL) Teams in unconvention- 
al and paramilitary operations.""'' On the 15th the Secretary and Under 
Secretary of the Navy and high-ranking naval officers embarked in the 
craft for a thirty-minute demonstration on the Potomac River. ^^ 

Soon afterward, preparations were made to deploy PTF-3 and PTF-4 to 
Southeast Asia in order to conduct the long-contemplated special opera- 
tions. On 28 June, Admiral Anderson assigned the two Nastys to 
CINCPACFLT's Amphibious Group 1. However, before the transit from 
the East Coast was made, Admiral Sides, the Pacific Fleet commander, 
after a thorough study of the proposed operating environment, directed 
modifications to the PTFs' armament. Specifically, in addition to the two 
single-mount, 40-millimeter, and two single-mount, 20-millimeter guns, 
the admiral stipulated that the boats be equipped with two 3.5-inch rocket 
launchers and two or more flamethrowers. 

At the end of August, after the completion of much of this work, the 
PTFs were loaded on board Vancouver (LPD-2) and transported via the 
Panama Canal to San Diego. Once there, Commander Amphibious Force, 
U.S. Pacific Fleet was given the first opportunity, albeit a short one, to 
prepare the boats and train the crews for service in the Western Pacific 
and to evaluate their future needs. 

Two days of exercises with SEALs and UDT personnel, including 
delivery and recovery operations, night interdiction, sneak attack, beach 
marking and buoy laying, and day and night rendezvous followed. The 
SEALs found the PTF a suitable craft for their type of activity, but the 
crews were considered not yet fully familiar with their unconventional 
warfare role. Weapons firing practice by boat personnel was somewhat 
more satisfactory, considering the fact that the men had conducted live- 
fire only twice before. Habitability of the PTFs, with crews and ten-man 

^^DOD, News Release, No. 671-63 of 13 May 1963. 

"Msgs, CINCLANTFLT 012056Z May 1963; 031756Z; CHINFO 062148Z; COMNAVAIR- 
LANT 072053Z; COMUDUTWO 1 1 1533Z; Schedule, "Secretary of the Navy Visit to the PTF-3 at 
Quantico," of 15 May; Washington Post, 16 May 1963. 

206 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

SEAL detachments on board, was determined adequate, but only for 
operations lasting forty-eight hours or less. The critical factor was the lack 
of stowage space for fresh water and provisions. The Pacific Fleet 
amphibious commander also advised CINCPACFLT that the boats needed 
specialized logistic support to remain operational in Southeast Asia. 
Special high-grade diesel fuel, lubricating oil, and coolants were essential. 
With most of the spare parts of European manufacture, an efficient supply 
system also was required. In addition, the need for frequent screw 
replacement, engine overhauls, and a one-month drydocking period every 
six months demanded sophisticated base support, such as then could be 
provided only at Subic Bay in the Philippines. 

The amphibious commander further observed that the boat crews 
should be provided with instruction in self-defense, evasion and escape, 
and specialized training in covert operations support. Extended training in 
San Diego could not be conducted because Point Defiance (LSD-31) was 
scheduled to lift the boats to Pearl Harbor on 17 September. But the 
admiral suggested that training personnel be embarked, and a mobile 
training team continue the process in Hawaii and in Subic. Vice Admiral 
Ephraim P. Holmes, the commander of the Pacific Fleet amphibious force, 
finally concluded that without a sophisticated forward support and 
training base in South Vietnam, "this operation will soon come apart and 
probability of highly detrimental effects is apparent."^* 

With training officers embarked, Point Defiance transported PTF-3 and 
PTF-4 to Hawaii, where preparations for the Southeast Asian commitment 
proceeded in late September and early October 1963. At the same time, 
naval leaders began to grow concerned about the heavy publicity given 
the new additions to the fleet. As a result, emphasis was placed on the 
boats' capability to counter Soviet motor torpedo boats rather than on 
their special operations role. The CNO allowed the Office of Information 
to provide press and film coverage while the PTFs were in Hawaii, but felt 
that "in view of the ultimate operations planned for PTF-3 and PTF-4, 
they should be given a minimum of publicity" thereafter.-' 

"Msg, COMPHIBPAC 12I747Z Sep 1963. See also msgs, CNO 262043Z Jun 1963; 282313Z; 
CPFLT 031953Z Jul; CLFLT 101434Z; CPFLT 160229Z; CLFLT 252016Z; COMPHIBPAC 
2101 15Z Aug. 

^'Msg, CNO 251847ZSep 1963. See also COMPHIBPAC 22171 IZ Aug; CPFLT 140614ZSep; 
COMPHIBPAC 141629Z; CPFLT 151943Z; Mulford, Interview. 

The Naiy Enters the Fight Against Communist Insurgency 207 







.'s' ^ 




208 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

As the boats and their crews made the month-long transit to the 
Western Pacific on board Point Defiance, arriving in Subic on 22 October, 
the naval command also refined plans for the establishment of a forward 
base in South Vietnam. On 10 October CINCPACFLT detailed his 
proposal for establishing a shore-based mobile support team at Danang, 
rather than a light cargo ship (AKL) as previously suggested at the 
Washington level. The team would be composed of two officers and ten 
men, including personnel in engineman, electrician's mate, quartermaster, 
electronics technician, gunner's mate, shipfitter, damage controlman, 
machinery repairman, and storekeeper ratings, taken primarily from the 
PTF crews. Berthing, messing, and repair facilities would be provided by 
the MAAG. To enable the mobile support team to maintain and repair the 
boats in Vietnam, it was planned to transport a 100-ton tool and 
machinery package to the site from Subic. Fuel could be procured locally 
through the Shell Oil Company. CINCPACFLT also attempted to secure a 
small floating drydock and a ten-ton crane for heavier repair tasks. In 
addition to preferring the mobile support team to the AKL, because it was 
a more economical use of naval resources, Admiral Ulysses S. G. Sharp, 
the new Pacific Fleet commander, felt the small team would be less likely 
to compromise security. In that regard, he strongly recommended that the 
"boats be stricken (under MAP or other appropriate cover) at least for 
record purposes from U.S. Navy records... to preclude possible future 
embarrassment to the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Government."'" Action on 
this proposal, however, was not taken until late 1964. Although South 
Vietnamese personnel operated the boats when in North Vietnamese 
waters, they remained under U.S. register. 

Administrative Preparations for Counterinsurgency Warfare 

To better control and coordinate the Navy's counterinsurgency effort, 
the CNO instituted several organizational changes. In early January 1962 
Admiral Anderson established a Navy-Marine Corps Cold War Advisory 
Panel to disseminate relevant information among the planning offices in 
Washington and to "conceive, develop and process ideas by which the 

*"Msg, CPFLT 102342Z Oct 1963. See also CP 030350Z May 1963; CNO 051937ZJun; CPFLT 
302031Z; CNO 271759Z Aug; CP 112011Z Oct. 

The Navy Enters the Fight Against Communist Insurgency 209 

Navy and Marine Corps can better serve the United States in gaining 
advantage in the cold war."" Placed under the supervision of the Deputy 
Chief of Naval Operations (Plans and Policy), the panel was chaired on an 
alternating basis by the Assistant Chief of Naval Operations (Plans and 
Policy) and the Director, Politico-Military Policy Division. Its members 
were drawn from those offices, from the Bureau of Naval Personnel, and 
from the Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps. 

Soon afterward, the CNO fixed responsibilities within the Office of the 
Chief of Naval Operations for counterinsurgency matters. The Deputy 
Chief of Naval Operations (Fleet Operations and Readiness) was designat- 
ed the central point of contact. Within that office, the Strike Warfare 
Division ensured the Navy's operational readiness for the conduct of 
counterinsurgency actions through training, development of tactical 
doctrine, and determination of operational requirements. Similarly, the 
Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Plans and Policy) was assigned 
responsibility for planning as regards counterinsurgency. That office's 
Politico-Military Policy Division provided advice on the political ramifica- 
tions of an intended operation, while the Strategic Plans Division 
coordinated planning so as to attain the "maximum counter-insurgency 
effectiveness... as may be achieved in balance with limited war and general 
war readiness."'^ 

In addition, due to the increasing number of SEAL and other units 
involved in unconventional warfare in Southeast Asia and elsewhere, it 
became apparent by the fall of 1963 that greater centralization of 
administrative support and control of naval special operations forces was 
required. Accordingly, on 10 October 1963, Naval Operations Support 
Groups were established in the Pacific and Atlantic Fleets. The groups 
assumed administrative control of fleet SEAL, beach jumper unit, 
underwater demolition team, and PT boat units. ^^ 

In addition to organizing commands to provide more responsive 
administrative support, the Navy took steps to prepare personnel for 
counterinsurgency warfare in the hostile Southeast Asian environment. 
This was especially the case after Admiral Anderson learned early in 1962 
that the "President was quite emphatic. ..that he wanted people from all 

^'CNO, OPNAV Instruction 3410.5A, ser 9P06B1 of 2 Jan 1962. 

"CNO, OPNAV Instruction 5430.22, ser 129P60 of 27 Feb 1962. 

"Ltr, McDonald to Kennedy, of 21 Nov 1963; CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY 1964, p. 34. 

210 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Services trained in antiguerrilla warfare, including the Attaches."^'* As a 
result, on 6 January the CNO informed his fleet commanders in chief that 
"ail U.S. Navy personnel now in Vietnam or sent to Vietnam or such 
places in the future should receive sufficient training in the use of small 
arms and other appropriate weapons for individual protection should they 
become involved in combat with guerrilla-type adversaries."" 

To implement this directive, the Bureau of Naval Personnel established 
at fleet training activities indoctrination courses in small arms use and self- 
defense to qualify individuals for Southeast Asian duty. For the next six 
months, naval training programs and courses of instruction in subjects 
related to counterinsurgency were increased significantly. Both the U.S. 
Naval Academy and the Naval War College intensified their teaching 
efforts. At the same time naval personnel, in growing numbers, received 
relevant instruction at non-Navy schools, such as the Armed Forces Staff 
College, the National War College, and the Army's Special Warfare 
Center. In addition, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations and the 
technical bureaus concerned with unconventional and Cold War military 
activities dispatched key personnel to selected areas of the world. Admiral 
Anderson explained to his flag officers that the "broad objective of the 
overall [counterinsurgency training] program is to prepare officers for 
command, staff, country team and departmental positions involved in 
planning and conducting counterinsurgency operations, with emphasis on 
improving U.S. capability for countering subversive insurgency in emerg- 
ing nations. "^'^ 

On 19 July 1962, the Chief of Naval Operations issued a formal 
instruction establishing the Navy's "Counterinsurgency Education and 
Training Program." This comprehensive effort was designed to "familiar- 
ize officers of all grades with the history of insurgency movements, in 
order that they will understand the problems, characteristics, tactics and 

'""CNO, Minutes of Meeting of 5 Jan 1962. President Kennedy also expressed his desire that 
training in and knowledge of counterinsurgency operations be a prerequisite for selection to flag and 
general officer rank. See OP-09A, memo for record, ser 0037P09 of 9 Mar 1962. See also memo, 
OP-601C to OP-06, ser BM0269-62 of 10 Mar; U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 12, pp. 457-59. 

"Msg, CNO 061353Z Jan 1962. See also BUPERS 021323Z Feb. 

*'Ltr, CNO to Flag and General Officers, of 15 May 1962. See also memos, OP-60 to Joint Staff, 
ser 001 193P60 of 8 Dec 1961; OSD to CNO, of 19 Mar 1962; OP-60 to OP-OIP, ser 0513-62 of 20 
Apr 1962. 

The Navy Enters the Fight Against Communist Insurgency 211 

techniques of these movements."^' Under the guidance of the Bureau of 
Naval Personnel, the General Line and Naval Science School, Officer 
Candidate School, Navy Supply Corps School, Civil Engineer Corps 
Officer School, U.S. Naval School, Pre-Fhght, and various Navy Medical 
Corps schools were directed to provide ten-hour academic orientation 
courses in such subjects as "Communist Exploits in Revolutionary 
Change," "Functions of Guerrilla Warfare," "Civil-Mihtary Relation- 
ships," and "Problems of Cross-Cultural Communications." There were 
plans for the U.S. Naval Academy and the General Line and Naval 
Science School to conduct a minimum of eight hours of "study of the 
social, economic, political and psychological aspects of the revolutionary 
process including insurgency movements and counterinsurgency opera- 
tions, guerrilla warfare, psychological warfare and legal aspects of 

For the middle and senior level officers at the Naval War College, an 
understanding of the role of U.S. government organizations and country 
team counterinsurgency efforts was deemed essential. This would be 
coupled with teaching in the capabilities of U.S. naval forces to carry out 
counterinsurgency operations and in the related weapons, training, 
supply, transportation, medical, engineering, psychological, intelligence, 
civil affairs, communications, political, and planning areas. 

Responsibility for functional training rested with the fleet commanders 
in chief. In addition to specialized training for SEALs and STATs, 
CINCPACFLT and CINCLANTFLT were to instruct MAAG naval 
mission officers, selected fleet staff officers, and personnel assigned to 
certain mobile training teams and overseas duty stations. The military 
assistance advisors would receive comprehensive instruction at the Special 
Warfare Center in countering guerrillas and the spread of insurgency. 
This training was augmented by a two-week course conducted by area 
fleet amphibious commands in small arms use, self-defense, evasion and 
escape, and orientation in the functions of SEAL, STAT, boat, and mobile 
training teams. The mobile training team personnel also received this 
indoctrination. Staff officer training consisted of preparation for planning 
the organization, employment, and logistic support of friendly counter- 

"CNO, OPNAV Instruction 01500.17, ser 01666P10 of 19 Jul 1962; OPNAV Instruction 
01500.17A ser 0187P34 of 12 Mar 1965, which superseded 01500.17, was modified to include 
enlisted personnel in the general training program. 

'*CNO, OPNAV Instruction 01500.17. 

212 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

guerrilla forces.^^ 

A third element in the naval instruction of July 1962 was the suggestion 
that personnel conduct self-orientation programs in counterinsurgency 
matters. Because of the forward positioning of naval forces near troubled 
areas of the world, it was altogether likely that the Navy would be called 
upon to undertake activities in these regions. The Chief of Naval 
Operations apprised the service that "at this point in conflict, the role may 
shift from a show of force (i.e., port visits, goodwill, civic action, and 
MAP assistance) to one of participation in counterinsurgency opera- 
tions. "^° Hence, naval personnel were instructed to enhance their 
awareness and understanding of insurgency movements, including their 
causes, characteristics, and solutions. In addition to academic preparation, 
individuals were advised to acquire knowledge of endangered countries 
through simple observation. Officers and men stationed in foreign lands, 
passing through, or attached to ships on port calls, were requested to 
analyze what they saw and to pass on that knowledge to other personnel.'*' 

Thus, the Navy prepared its personnel to cope with and to counter the 
perceived threat of Communist insurgencies worldwide, and particularly 
in Southeast Asia. By mid- 1962, the naval training program in counterin- 
surgency warfare was fully underway. Within a year, most of the 
personnel in the Pacific Fleet received basic instruction in counterinsur- 
gency at the ship or unit level. Over 400 personnel assigned to commands 
in the Western Pacific experienced more intensive training by 
Commander Amphibious Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. And 1,200 officers 
completed programs of self-orientation. Similarly, most amphibious exer- 
cises included special warfare training.''^ 

The Navy's Adaptation to the Counterinsurgency Doctrine 

Although the Navy accommodated the administration's stress on 
counterinsurgency, principally with the establishment of the SEALs and 
STATs, there was a continuing effort by Defense Department officials to 
encourage additional measures. At one point, Admiral Anderson privately 

"CNO, OPNAV Instruction 01500.17. 
""CNO, OPNAV Instruction 01500.17. 
■"CNO, OPNAV Instruction 01500.17. 
'^CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY 1963, pp. 19, 29, 35. 

The Nary Enters the Fight Against Communist Insurgency 213 

complained to his Pacific Fleet commander that "we are constantly 
besieged with inquiries as to what the Navy is doing in this realm. '"'^ This 
focus continued throughout the period, as President Kennedy, Secretary 
of Defense McNamara, and subordinate officials worked to reorient U.S. 
conventional forces for the conflict in Southeast Asia. 

At the same time, a number of naval staff officers and commanders in 
the field also called for the restructuring of forces to fight the Communist 
guerrilla. In one example, the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, 
Amphibious Warfare Readiness Branch, with the assistance of the Navy 
Plans Branch, prepared a study based on the assumption that "U.S. 
national policy will permit the use of effective military means short of 
open warfare to combat Communist expansion" and that the "U.S. Navy 
will be called upon to conduct sublimited warfare in restricted waters, 
rivers, maritime areas, and on the high seas.'"''' This document, whose 
principal author was Captain Harry S. Warren of the Amphibious Warfare 
Readiness Branch, concluded that "expansion beyond the SEAL team 
concept is considered necessary to provide a truly effective capability.'"*' 
Captain Raymond S. Osterhoudt, the Navy Plans Branch representative 
on the project, also called for a "new look" regarding naval participation 
in special warfare and added that 

some degradation of readiness for limited war and/or general war is a 
factor which must be recognized and accepted prior to employment for 
sub-limited war purposes .... It is reasonable to assume that some 
specialized sub-limited war forces would be necessary to augment 
existing forces. Such forces would provide capabilities complementary 
to limited war and general war forces, rather than adding one more 
mission to existing forces.''^ 

Both captains recommended the creation of a special operations group, as 
first suggested in a CINCLANTFLT study, to exercise operational control 
of SEAL teams, "Restricted Waters Units," and "River Operations 
Units," and to train personnel in the requisite skills. The group also would 

^'Ltr, Anderson to Sides, of 30 Jan 1962. See also memo, OP-60 to OP-06, ser BM0033-62 of 11 
Jan 1962. 

^■*Memo, OP-03 to OP-09, ser 00111P34 of 5 Dec 1961. See also CNO, memo for record, ser 
00020-61 of 28 Aug 1961; memos, BUWEPS to CNO, ser 06430 of 21 Nov; OP-09 to OP-03, ser 
053P09 of 25 Nov; OP-60 to Joint Staff, JCS, ser 001193P60 of 8 Dec. 

•'^Memo, OP-03 to OP-09, ser 00111P34 of 5 Dec 1961. 

'*'^Memo, OP-06 to OP-03, ser BM001238-61 of 9 Dec 1961. 

214 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

contain a support element possessing aircraft, transport submarines, 
helicopter carriers, amphibious ships, and other boats and craft. The force 
would be manned by 200 officers and 1,300 men. 

In another instance, in August 1962, Captain Drachnik, head of the 
MAAG Vietnam Navy Section, forwarded to Washington a concept for a 
U.S. "River Warfare Force." The unit would consist of several river 
groups, each composed of a Marine rifle company, fifteen river craft 
(LCVP type), thirty swimmer support boats, a UH-IB helicopter, a 
mother ship (LSM), and a major support ship (an LSM, LSD, LPD, or 
APA). Air support would be furnished by carrier and shore-based aircraft. 
Captain Drachnik envisioned positioning the major support ship at a river 
mouth or nearby port and the mother ship thirty to thirty-five miles from 
the area of operations. From the latter floating base the naval group would 
sortie into the rivers to "locate, harass, and destroy guerrilla-type 
insurgency units in order to assist a friendly government to resist covert 

However, a number of naval leaders resisted the creation of additional 
special purpose units. In the words of Rear Admiral Waldemar F.A. 
Wendt, Director of the Strategic Plans Division, it was "uneconomical in 
manpower, equipment, and money to develop specialized units and forces 
solely for counterinsurgency operations"*** when traditional naval forces 
possessed the requisite characteristics. Admiral Wendt further observed 
that "within current resources, improvement of naval cold war/ counterin- 
surgency activities world-wide is desirable and should continue to be 
stimulated." But, he concluded that "such activities should be secondary 
to considerations of readiness for limited and general war."^' Noting that 
the Navy's prompt and forceful response to the Cuban Missile Crisis 
demonstrated the need for optimum strength at sea, the admiral also 
pointed out that while the service could "contribute significantly to 
meeting cold war/ counterinsurgency requirements, these activities are 
primarily land oriented and properly a primary responsibility of the 

""'"U.S. River Warfare Force," end. in Itr, Drachnik to Anderson, of 17 Aug 1962. See also Charles 
N. Crandall, Jr., "Naval Warfare On Inland Waterways," unpublished thesis for U.S. Army War 
College, 1962. 

"^Memo, OP-60 to OP-93, ser 0338-63 of 19 Apr 1963. See also Bucklew, Interview with Mason, 
pp. 338-39, 358. 

•'■'Memo, OP-60 to OP-34, ser 00337-63 of 16 Apr 1963. 

'"Memo, OP-60 to OP-34, ser 00337-63 of 16 Apr 1963. 

The Navy Enters the Fight Against Communist Insurgency 215 

Several months later, before a congressional committee, Captain 
Donald N. Clay, the Head, Special Operations Section, gave another 
statement indicating the Navy's overall position. He noted: 

Since counterinsurgency is but one part of the cold war... one part of the 
spectrum of conflict... the Navy does not consider it necessary or 
desirable to have its general purpose forces separately organized for 
counterinsurgency operations .... Because of their flexibility and 
multipurpose functions... Navy general purpose forces. ..have inherent 
capabilities. Deployed fleet forces are ready to respond quickly and 
effectively to requirements throughout the spectrum of [conflict] 
including insurgency." 

For these reasons, neither the proposal to establish a special operations 
group nor the River Warfare Force then were adopted. In the latter case. 
Admiral Anderson concluded that the "development of a separate U.S. 
River Force does not appear to be justified to my mind at the present time 
in view of our already considerable capabilities in the form of amphibious 
naval craft and the complementary amphibious capabilities of our Ma- 

The Chief of Naval Operations also pointed out to Captain Drachnik 
that "we are required to remain in an advisory role [which prevents] our 
development of a 'U.S.* force for use in your area."" Under these 
circumstances. Admiral Anderson felt that the further development of 
tactics, techniques, and equipment for this type of warfare could be 
achieved by "improving the River Force capabilities of our friends, the 
Vietnamese and others by providing appropriate material and competent 
advisory support. "^'' 

5'Memo, OP-343 to OP-03, ser 00526-63 of 9 Sep 1963. 

'^Ltr, Anderson to Sides, of 1 1 Sep 1962. Commander Howard A. I. Sugg, executive officer of the 
Navy Section, MAAG, Vietnam, on the other hand, subsequently observed that the "U.S. Navy is 
sadly deficient in its knowledge of and capability for any type of operations in restricted waters, other 
than conventional amphibious tactics, which, although having some application, are entirely 
inadequate to the wide range of problems of a nation like Vietnam." Memo, OP-941P to OP-941, of 
l6Jan 1963. See also Itrs, Anderson to Dennison, of 1 1 Sep 1962; CINCPAC toJCS, ser 00635 of 24 
Jun 1963; memos, OP-09 to OP-03, ser 0055P09 of 18 Dec 1961; OP-60 to OP-06, ser BM001238- 
61 of 1 Dec; Itr, CNO to Comptroller of the Navy, ser 00114P34 of 22 Dec. 

"Ltr, Anderson to Drachnik, of 10 Sep 1962. 

^''Ltr, Anderson to Sides, of 11 Sep 1962. See also Itr, Anderson to Dennison, of 11 Sep; memo, 
OP-60 to CNO, BM5 50-62 of 4 Sep. 

216 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Although top naval leaders were reluctant to establish further special 
purpose forces, there were continuing efforts to adapt existing resources 
to the growing requirements of counterinsurgency. Indeed, Admiral 
Robert B. Pirie, the Deputy Chief Naval Operations (Air), observed that 

while the other services. ..are busily developing a multitude of new 
requirements, and programs... the Navy is quietly contributing both a 
large share of the aircraft currently involved, and of those planned for 
use in the immediate future in South Vietnam, with very little credit 
redounding to us but with no little effort on training and readiness.^' 

Similarly, late in April 1962, Admiral Sharp, then the Deputy Chief of 
Naval Operations (Plans and Policy), noted the potential value of naval 
helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft (including the A3D, P2V, and P5M) in 
supporting counterinsurgency troops with attack, communications, sur- 
veillance, reconnaissance, and transport operations. The admiral recom- 
mended further evaluation of these aircraft and their specialized armament 
in an operational environment.'''' 

Another system adaptable to the requirements of Southeast Asia was the 
amphibious assault ship, whose helicopters could carry South Vietnamese 
troops on strikes against Viet Cong coastal concentrations from one end of 
the elongated country to the other. CINCPACFLT, who favored their use, 
believed that ship-based helicopter lift was inherently superior to the 
shore-based mode because of the advantages of surprise, greater flexibili- 
ty, and freedom from enemy fire over water.'^ 

Greater attention was given to other existing ships that were suited to 
special transportation duties, such as submarines. These vessels could land 
and supply friendly guerrillas, collect intelligence, or perform rescue 

"Memo, OP-05 to OP-06, ser 0003P50 of 14 Apr 1962. 

^"^Memos, OP-605 to Joint Staff (JCS), ser 001193P60 of 8 Dec 1961; OP-60 to OP-06, ser 
BM0033-62 of 11 Jan 1962; OP-60 to OP-34, ser BM00249-62 of 2 Mar; OP-60 to OP-35, ser 
00358-62 of 19 Mar; OP-06 to OP-05, ser 000504P60 of 28 Apr; Itr. OP-60 to Leake, of 6 Jun; 
memos, OP-60 to OP-06, ser BM000691-62 of 6 Jun; OP-60 to OP-06, ser 00716-62 of 15 Jun; OP- 
60 to OP-34, ser 00965-62 of 14 Aug. 

''Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CINCPAC, ser 62/00072 of 21 Mar 1962. In the fall of 1962, 
COMUSMACV briefly broached a proposal for placing an LPH under his operational control, but the 
CNO, CINCPAC, and CINCPACFLT consistently opposed the concept as a usurpation of roles 
assigned the Navy and Marine Corps. See msgs, COMUSMACV 220445Z Sep 1962; CPFLT 
272134Z; CINCPACFLT, "Type Commanders' Conference, 19-20 February 1962. " ser 00/00192- 
62 of 2 Mar 1962, p. 9; Itr, CINCPACFLT to CINCPAC, ser 62/00048 of 6 Mar; OP-605F. memo, 
ser 0001514P60 of 29 Nov. See also W. M. Miller, The BLT/LPH in South Vietnam: A Proposal," 
unpublished thesis for Naval War College, 1963. 

The Navy Enters the Fight Against Communist Insurgency 217 

operations in enemy waters. To provide the fleet with this capability, 
transport submarines Perch (APSS-313) and Sealion (APSS-315) were 
recommissioned in the fall of 1961. Perch, commanded by Lieutenant 
Commander Charles H. Hedgepeth, thereafter engaged in training 
exercises off the West Coast, Hawaii, and the Philippines with Marine 
reconnaissance, SEAL, and UDT units. Homeported in Subic Bay after 
March 1963, the submarine prepared for special operations in Southeast 
Asia.'^ In a Hke vein, Captain Daniel V. James, the Director of 
Communications, Plans and Policy Division, stressed the relevance to 
counterinsurgency of the Navy's beach jumper units in conducting 
"electronic warfare, particularly in the fields of electronic jamming and 
electronic deception" against such countries as North Vietnam and 
Communist China. ^' 

Regardless of these efforts to adapt its forces to counterinsurgency 
situations, senior officials outside the Navy continued to urge the 
development of special formations. President Kennedy himself, shortly 
before his death, wrote the Chief of Naval Operations and Secretary of the 
Navy that 

when I was in Norfolk in 1962 I noted particularly the members of the 
SEAL Teams. I was impressed by them as individuals and with the 
capability they possess as a group. As missiles assume more and more of 
the nuclear deterrent role and as your limited war mission grows, the 
need for special forces in the Navy and Marine Corps will increase. "^^ 

The President ended his correspondence with the pointed question, "what 
is the status of your Special Forces?"^' 

On 21 November 1963, Admiral David L. McDonald, the new CNO, 
in what was to be his last report to President Kennedy, summarized the 
Navy's accomplishments in the counterinsurgency effort of the past two 
years. The admiral detailed the establishment and deployment to South 

^'OP-93, ■•Statement of U.S. Navy Long Range Objectives, 1969-1974 (LRO-59)," ser 0018P93 
of 19 Mar 1959, p. 34; Itr, Griffin to Burke, ser 00029 of 12 Jul 1961, enclosing "Seventh Fleet 
Briefing of DOD RDT&E Limited War Study Group," pt. 3, p. 3; Itr, McDonald to Kennedy, of 21 
Nov 1963; Naval History Division, Dictionary oj American Naval Fighting Ships, Vol. V (Washington: 
GPO, 1970), p. 262; Naval History Division, Dictionary of American Navat Fighting Ships, Vol. VI 
(Washington: GPO, 1976), p. 418; OSD, memo, of 26 Jul 1962. 

''Memo, OP-94 to OP-94G, ser 00079P94 of 14 Jun 1962. 

'"Memo, Kennedy to Nitze/McDonald, of 7 Nov 1963. 

"Memo, Kennedy to Nitze/McDonald, of 7 Nov 1963. 

218 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Vietnam of the SEAL and STAT units which he believed were "definitely 
proving their worth." He added that the "remainder of our Cold War 
(and potential limited war) requirements of this type are met from our 
general purpose forces."''^ 

In the period from 1962 to 1963, the Navy established the basic 
structure for its contribution to counterinsurgency warfare. The SEAL and 
STAT teams, the PTF detachments, and the Naval Operations Support 
Groups formed the core of this program for much of the Vietnam War. At 
the same time, the role and composition of naval forces in this particular 
type of conflict were refined, partly as a result of experience in the 
operational theater. As a result of these developments, naval personnel 
were better prepared to assist the South Vietnamese in their fight against 
the Communist insurgents. 

"Ltr, McDonald to Kennedy, of 21 Nov 1963. 


The Naval Advisory and 
Logistic Support Effort 
in Vietnam, 1961-1963 

As a result of the presidential decisions of November 1961, the U.S. 
military assistance and advisory effort took a new turn. At that time, the 
United States took the position that continued aggression by North 
Vietnam in blatant contravention of the Geneva Agreement of 1954 
justified and necessitated the setting aside of the restrictions of the 
agreement regarding the introduction of military personnel and material 
into South Vietnam. On 11 December 1961, Core arrived in Saigon with 
the first military equipment not authorized by the 1954 accord. 

Similarly, the administration allowed an expansion of the MAAG to 
1,905 men and, as a result of the stepped up Communist activity in the 
fall, Diem authorized American advisors to accompany and advise 
Vietnamese units during combat operations. Thereafter, U.S. naval 
advisors were assigned to individual ships and craft, rather than to 
headquarters alone. Captain Drachnik believed this to be an effective way 
to strengthen the Vietnamese Navy to defeat the Communists.' 

To better control and coordinate the numerous, varied, and growing 
U.S. military activities in South Vietnam, early in November 1961 
Secretary of Defense McNamara directed the JCS to draw up plans for the 
creation of an overall American command. He envisioned a unified 
command, separate from CINCPAC, reporting directly to the JCS and 
through the Joint Chiefs to the Secretary of Defense. 

Opposition to this proposal quickly developed within the JCS and from 
CINCPAC. Admiral Anderson, the Chief of Naval Operations, was 
concerned that the new command arrangement would erode Admiral 

'Drachnik, Interview with Fitzgerald; memo, OP-61 to CNO, ser 00770P61 of 11 Dec 1961. 


220 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

Felt's authority in the Pacific. The Navy's head pointed out that South 
Vietnam should not be militarily segregated from the rest of the Far East, 
for which CINCPAC was responsible, especially since the size of U.S. 
forces in the country or the nature of the conflict did not seem to warrant 
an independent theater type command. The JCS concurred with the 
Navy's position and recommended establishment of a unified command 
subordinate to CINCPAC. McNamara accepted the JCS conclusion. 
Accordingly, the U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam (MACV), 
was established on 8 February 1962 under General Paul D. Harkins, 
USA. The new headquarters was authorized a staff of 216 individuals, 35 
of them from the Navy. Naval captains filled the assistant chief of staff for 
personnel and comptroller billets. President Kennedy assigned General 
Harkins, commanding under the policy direction of the U.S. ambassador, 
a difficult task: "He was to save the country without escalating the 
situation there. "^ 

Expanded Naval Advisory Effort 

During 1962 and 1963 there was a dramatic growth in the number of 
U.S. military advisors in South Vietnam. By November 1963, the number 
of personnel in the MA AG had increased to 3,500. More than doubling in 
strength, the Navy Section grew to 154 U.S. Navy and Marine Corps 
advisors. Naval officers and men were assigned to every major command 
and component of the Vietnamese Navy, including Sea Force ships, River 
Force RAGs, and junk force coastal divisions. As a result, the ability to 
exert influence on the development of the Vietnamese Navy was 
enhanced considerably.' 

While the number of U.S. naval advisors sent to Vietnam increased, 
Captain Drachnik encountered problems obtaining exceptional American 

'As reported by Admiral Anderson in CNO, minutes of meeting, Thursday, 4 Jan 1962. See also 
CNO, minutes of meeting, Thursday, 16 Nov 1961; CNO, minutes of meeting, Friday, 24 Nov 
1961; msgs, CP 141212Z Nov 1961; JCS 282248Z; CP 290301Z; 081600Z Feb 1962; CINCPAC, 
Command History, 1962, p. 154; memos, Shoup to Anderson, of 18 Nov 1961; OP-60 to CNO, ser 
BM727-61 of 22 Nov; Military Assistant to SECDEF to SECARM/SECNAV/SECAF/CHJCS, of 29 
Nov; OSD, of 29 Nov. 

'CINCPAC, Command History, 1961, fig. 13; U.S.-V-N. Reiaiwm, bk. 3, pt. IVB.4, p. i; Fitzgerald, 
"U.S. Naval Forces in the Vietnam War;" JCS, "Report of Visit by JCS Staff Team to South 
Vietnam, ' Jan 1963; NAG, Progress Report, of 30 Aug 1962. 

The Naval Advisory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 221 

officers for the advisory program. The naval advisor's job was extremely 
difficult. He had to deal with a type of inshore and coastal warfare with 
which the U.S. Navy had little modern experience. He was expected to 
advise the Vietnamese in operating old ship types that, in many cases, he 
had never seen in the U.S. Fleet. Furthermore, the advisors lacked 
command authority and could only influence their counterparts through 
persuasion and example. Overeager officers who pushed too hard or tried 
to command the Vietnamese found their effectiveness sharply reduced. 
Not surprisingly, most American officers did not consider the job of 
advisor as career enhancing. Captain Drachnik stated frankly that "career- 
wise it was... horrible duty." He explained: "1 was out there the only Navy 
captain that side of Hawaii practically. ..surrounded by. ..Army officers 
writing [my fitness] reports.'"* When informed that he would relieve 
Drachnik, Captain William H. Hardcastle felt that, "it certainly sounded 
like a dead-end job. I would go as a loyal naval officer, but I certainly 
didn't see any future in that."' Captain Drachnik also reported that the 
caliber of personnel assigned to his command indicated "a distinct lack of 
interest in the naval effort in Vietnam. ""^ Since the Navy's share of the 
military assistance budget worldwide was only about 10 to 15 percent of 
the total, the Navy understandably gave the program relatively low 
priority compared to the more pressing needs of the fleet.^ 

In December 1961 Secretary McNamara expressed dissatisfaction with 
the experience and quality of advisory personnel in Vietnam. As a result, 
he directed the services to send highly qualified personnel to the MAAG. 
Two years later, McNamara voiced similar complaints. At that time a 
survey of senior naval billets assigned to the MAAG found that many were 
filled by junior officers or by officers who had failed their first selection to 
the next higher grade. There was noticeable improvement in the caliber of 
officers subsequently sent to Vietnam, but the selection of advisors 
continued to be a concern.^ 

''Drachnik, Interview with Fitzgerald, p. 2. 

^William H. Hardcastle, transcript of interview with Oscar P. Fitzgerald, Naval Historical Center, 
in Norfolk, VA, 22 Apr 1975, p. 15. 

"^Ltr, Drachnik to Ricketts, of 13 Mar 1964, p. 12. 

Ibid. p. 6; Hardcastle, Interview; memo. Special Assistant, Counterinsurgency, ISA to Assistant for 
Counterinsurgency, ISA, of 2 Dec 1964. 

'Msgs, CNO 301739Z Dec 1961; COMUSMACV 310330Z Dec 1963. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

5; x: s 






The Naval Advisory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 223 

A continuing problem for the advisors assigned before 1964 was the 
absence of even brief instruction in the culture and customs of the 
country, much less the language. The need for their expertise was so 
critical, however, that there was no time for comprehensive predeploy- 
ment training. Advisors could develop a rapport with the Vietnamese, but 
lack of language training complicated an already difficult task. At the end 
of 1961, only three officers in the U.S. Navy had received training in 
Vietnamese. Interpreters were scarce and Vietnamese documents often 
had to be sent to Saigon for translation at MAAG headquarters.' 

Although the number of Americans conversant in Vietnamese re- 
mained low, many more Vietnamese learned English, especially those 
officers in the higher commands. Further, English competency was a 
prerequisite for the growing number of Vietnamese naval officers sent to 
the United States for training. Captain Drachnik observed that almost 
everyone he worked with in Vietnam spoke English. '° 

At best, it took an average of six to eight months for an advisor to learn 
his role and understand the Vietnamese system. But in March 1962, the 
Secretary of Defense approved a reduction in tour lengths to twenty-four 
months for naval personnel accompanied by their families, fifteen months 
for unaccompanied men, and twelve months for naval advisors serving 
alone in the field outside of Saigon. Initially, Admiral Felt favored longer 
tours in order to preserve advisor continuity. He supported the new 
shorter tour lengths, however, believing that more personnel should be 
exposed to the learning experience. Also, as more and more advisors were 
assigned to the Vietnamese units in the field. Admiral Felt concluded that 
a year was long enough exposure to the isolation, tropical climate, and 
health problems associated with duty in remote areas of Vietnam. Most 
advisors, however, agreed with Captain Drachnik that the effectiveness of 
the advisory effort would have been substantially improved by lengthened 

'G.C. Hickey and W.P. Davison, The American Military Advisor and His Foreign Counterpart: The Case 
of Vietnam (Santa Monica, CA: Rand Corp., 1965), pp. 19-20, 30-33; MTT 3-62, report, of 11 Jan 
1963; Itr 1st Coastal District Advisor to Senior Junk Force Advisor, of 31 May 1963; 1st Coastal 
District Advisor to CHNAVSEC of 5 Jul. 

'"Drachnik, Interview with Fitzgerald; msg, CNO 301739Z Dec 1961; NAG, Fact Sheet, 
"Training," of 1963. 

"Ltr, Drachnik to Ricketts, of 13 Mar 1964, p. 14; Hickey and Davison, American Military Advisor, 
p. 43; msg, CP 062320Z Feb 1962; memo, OP-01 to CNO, ser BM37-62 of 6 Mar. 

224 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Expansion of the Vietnamese Navy 

The increase in the number of U.S. advisors in Vietnam reflected the 
growth of the Vietnamese Navy. From 3,200 men in June 1961 the navy, 
exclusive of its subordinate marine corps, grew to 6,000 men in February 
1963. This burgeoning of the navy placed severe demands on the 
Vietnamese training establishment. To meet the growing need for 
officers, in August 1962 classes at the Vietnamese Naval Academy were 
increased from 50 to 100 men and the training time reduced from two 
years to eighteen months. The Vietnamese also set up a special petty 
officer training program. To assist this effort, Mobile Training Team 3-62, 
headed by Chief Radarman Elden Baldwin, arrived at Nha Trang in 
January 1962 for an eleven-month tour. These steps helped the Vietnam- 
ese Navy to fulfill the training needs of its expanding forces.'" 

As the Vietnamese Navy grew, better command-control procedures 
were necessary, particularly at the naval headquarters in Saigon. There 
efficient communications were needed to replace the patchwork system 
left over from the French era. Briefed on the problem during his visit to 
Saigon in December 1961, Secretary McNamara directed that communi- 
cations in the navy be modernized. Lieutenant John R. King was assigned 
temporarily to Vietnam on 28 December 1961 to develop plans for 
improving the Vietnamese system. During June and July 1962, the 
headquarters network, by then operated by a communications section, was 
completely rehabilitated, based on King's plans. Work was conducted on 
systems for four coastal surveillance centers and four River Force bases as 

Another essential requirement for an effective Vietnamese military 
command was intelligence. Before 1962, Vietnamese naval intelligence 
responsibilities were handled by the operations department of the naval 
staff; by a twenty-man section, which kept current information on the 
North Vietnamese naval order of battle, on the Joint General Staff; and by 

'^Navy Section, MAAG, "Agenda Items for Conference with President Diem, Aug 63;" Navy 
Section, MAAG, Fact Sheet, "Training in the VNN," of Sep 1963; Navy Section, MAAG, Progress 
Report, "Navy Schools," Aug 1962; Thomas M. Browne, transcript of interview with Dean Allard, 
Naval Historical Center, in Washington, DC, 31 Jan 1964; CHNAG, memo, ser 0070 of 10 Jul 1964; 
Itr, Drachnik to Ricketts, of 13 Mar, p. 2; MTT 3-62, report, of 1 1 Jan 1963; Education and Training 
Advisory Team, report, of 18 Jul 1962; Drachnik, Interview with Moss. 

"MTT 5-62, report, of 28 May 1962; NAG, Progress Report, "VNN Communications 
Improvement," of 23 Aug 1962; CINCPAC, Command History, 1962, pp. 164, 196. 

The Naval Advisory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 225 

another twenty-man group, which carried out counterinteUigence and 
counterespionage duties, serving with the Military Security Service. On 1 
April 1962, the Joint General Staff created a separate twenty-one-man 
Intelligence Department (N-2) of the naval staff. Staff officers with the 
Sea Force, River Force, and coastal district commands were also given 
intelligence responsibilities as a collateral duty. In August 1962, Captain 
Drachnik requested that a mobile training team be dispatched to Vietnam 
to provide elements of the Vietnamese Navy with instruction in operation- 
al intelligence. U.S. fleet commanders objected to even the temporary loss 
of these key personnel. Admiral Anderson was sympathetic with their 
views, but he approved Captain Drachnik's request on 25 September. 
Consequently, Lieutenant Commander Philip B. Shepard arrived in 
Vietnam in October and, working with Lieutenant (j.g.) Ray B. Huttig, 
intelligence advisor to the Vietnamese Navy, developed a two-week 
course of instruction. By mid-1963, over 200 Vietnamese officers and 
petty officers had received this intelligence training.''' 

In addition, an important command reorganization improved relations 
between army and naval commands in the field. The reorganization was 
part of the National Campaign Plan, devised by MACV in mid- 1962 to 
streamline the Vietnamese command structure and make it more respon- 
sive. On 1 January 1963, the Vietnamese Army increased from three to 
four the number of areas controlled by a corps headquarters. Captain 
Quyen immediately submitted a proposal to the Joint General Staff calling 
for a reorganization to facilitate coordination between the army and the 
navy. As adopted on 16 October 1963, the new structure established four 
naval zone commands to work in conjunction with the army's four corps 
tactical zone commands. The naval zone commanders exercised operation- 
al control over Coastal Force, River Force, and Sea Force units in their 
area. With a few exceptions, the Coastal Force and River Force controlled 
only administrative and logistic functions. The Sea Force retained 
operational control of its ships only when they were not operating in 
territorial waters." 

^"U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 11, pp. 419-20; CINCPAC, Command History, 1961, p. 196; memo, 
DCNO (Logistics) to DCNO (Plans and Policy), ser 001215P401 of 5 Nov 1962; MTT 5-63, report, 
of 3 Dec 1962; Navy Section, MAAG, Fact Sheet, "Naval Intelligence Organization," of 16 Aug 
1962; msg, CHMAAG 190039Z Sep 1962. 

''Navy Section, MAAG, "Agenda Items for Conference with President Diem, Aug 63; ' U.S. -V.N. 
Relations, bk. 3, pt. 1VB.4, pp. 5-6. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Con/lift 

( V 

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Thailand ? ^.^Naval\ 



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Naval V 
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South China Sea 

y^y <f 

I 'leltiamesc Naia! Zune Commands 

The Naval Adt'isory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 227 

As the size of the navy grew, the demands on the supply system 
increased correspondingly. During the first six months of 1962, the 
advisory team at the Naval Supply Center in Saigon expanded from six to 
sixteen men and their efforts to streamline supply management helped the 
center process twice the amount of supplies handled in all of 1961. 
Another important accomplishment of these naval advisors was the 
publication of a supply manual designed to speed up the system, although 
the Vietnamese were slow to accept it."" 

Steps also were taken to upgrade the Vietnamese Navy's ship and boat 
repair facilities. In order to ease the workload at the Saigon Naval 
Shipyard, Mobile Training Team 7A, consisting of eleven U.S. naval 
officers, arrived in Saigon in February 1962. During the next three 
months, the team reactivated an abandoned French repair yard at Cuu 
Long, adjacent to the shipyard, and placed its two marine railways back in 
operation. The new yard, named the Eastern Repair Facility, serviced the 
boats of three River Force groups stationed in the Saigon area. No longer 
would these units be forced to use the distant Western Repair Facility at 
Can Tho for repair work." 

At the shipyard itself, naval advisors concentrated on improving repair 
support through better long-range planning, work scheduling, and 
waterfront operations and strengthening the technical proficiency of the 
1,500-man civilian work force through training. Partly as a result of this 
assistance, the number of boat overhauls undertaken increased from an 
average of fourteen per month in 1961 to fifty-six per month in 1962, and 
most of them were completed on time. The shipyard additionally was able 
to take on the construction of fiberglass swimmer support boats, for use by 
army troops in the delta, and to do conversion work on newly arrived 
LCMs and LCVPs.'« 

'"Browne, Interview; Navy Section, MAAG, Progress Report, "Naval Material Center," of 30 Aug 

'Navy Section, MAAG, Fact Sheet, "Development of the Eastern Repair Facility," of 16 Dec 
1963; COMPHIBPAC, report, 2-S-62 of 22 Jun 1962; Navy Section, MAAG, "Agenda Items for 
Conference with President Diem." 

"Evenson M. Burtis, End of Tour Report, of Jun 1964; H.H. Reichert, End of Tour Report, of 6 
Apr 1964; Navy Section, MAAG, Progress Repon. 

228 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

The Coastal Force Comes of Age 

Diem had established the Coastal Force as an autonomous unit directly 
under the Department of State for National Defense, while the navy was 
assigned operational control of the force. In November 1961, however, 
Quyen recommended that the force be placed totally under the naval 
headquarters in order to avoid duplication and delays in support. U.S. 
advisors supported the recommendation. Accordingly, in July 1962 
Secretary of State for National Defense Thuan directed that the junk force 
thereafter rely upon the naval staff for all support. Lieutenant Commander 
Bruce A. Bryer, the Coastal Force advisor, commented several weeks 

The Junk Force is a new and vital addition to the VNN. It will soon be 
the largest force afloat — both in personnel and number of craft. It has 
already demonstrated its potential in unconventional warfare. Due to 
recent publicity, the eyes of the free world are upon it. It will be spread 
over the entire 1500 {sic] mile coastline making support problems 
acute. We must not allow this great new force to sink before it swims 
due to lack of support from its Mother Navy." 

The navy was slow in assuming this responsibility, but by the end of the 
year was providing full staff support to the Coastal Force. 

During this same period, the Kennedy administration agreed to support 
a sizeable increase in Coastal Force strength. At his meeting with Admiral 
Felt in Hawaii on 19 February 1962, Secretary of Defense McNamara 
approved the expenditure of MAP funds to expand the junk force from 
the initial 80 to 644 junks, formed in twenty-eight divisions. The United 
States would fund the building of 501 junks (including 61 command 
junks) in South Vietnamese yards. The Vietnamese Navy contracted for 
the construction of 40 motorized junks at a private yard in Rach Gia. The 
Saigon Naval Shipyard was to build the remaining 23 command junks. 
MAP support would also provide arms, engines, POL, and communica- 
tions equipment. 

"Junk Force Advisor, Fact Sheet, "Support of the Junk Force by the VN Navy," of 21 Aug 1962. 
See also Itr, Junk Force Advisor to CF^NAVSEC, of 24 May 1962; Chung Tan Cang, Interview, pp. 
42-45; Itrs, CHMAAGVN to SECDEF, of 18 Dec 1961; CHMAAGVN to CINCPAC, of 18 Dec 

The Naial Advisor)' and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 229 

There were three types of standard vessels: sailing junks; junks with a 
motor-sail combination, sometimes referred to as the northern type; and 
motorized or southern t^'pe junks. The command junks were similar to 
fishing junks used at the mouth of the Mekong River, but the design was 
modified for naval requirements by Lieutenant Commander William E. 
Hanks of the MAAG's Navy Section. The craft were powered by 225- 
horsepower Gray diesel engines."" 

The ordnance initially carried on the junks consisted only of small arms, 
including M-1 rifles, a Thompson submachine gun, and a 45-caliber pistol. 
A Browning automatic rifle was carried on the command junks. Later, the 
shipyard installed a 50-caliber machine gun forward and a 30-caliber 
machine gun aft on the command junks. But in March 1963 Quyen 
ordered all 50-caliber machine guns removed to avoid the possibility' of 
their loss to the Viet Cong and subsequent use against friendly aircraft, a 
fear which had been expressed at CINCPAC headquarters. Although U.S. 
naval advisors and the Vietnamese Coastal Force commander felt that the 
decision would hamper operations, particularly in the 3rd and 4th Coastal 
Distrias, the decision to remove the weapons stood. To offset the loss, 
and in view of increasing operations in the delta region, 168 30-caliber 
machine guns were procured by mid-October 1963 and installed forward 
where the 50-caliber weapons had been.-' 

By the end of June 1962, the U.S. Nav^' had let two contracts to boat 
yards at Phan Thiet and three to the naval shipyard at Saigon to construct 
501 junks, at a cost of 5850,000, for deliver^' beginning in August 1962. 
Although poor performance by several of the Vietnamese building firms 
and financial difficulties delayed the program, the first contraaor complet- 
ed his junks by January 1963 and the last finished his work by May of that 

At the suggestion of President Diem, General Harkins expressed a 
concern about the quality- of junks which the United States was buying. 
Captain Drachnik ordered an invesdgation in October 1962, after which 
he was convinced that the U.S. contract junks under construction were of 

'"CHNAVSEC, Instruction 9000.1, of 26 Sep 1962; CINCPAC, Third Secretary of Defense 
Conference, of 19 Feb 1962; ARPA, R&D Field Unit, Junk Blue Book," of 6 Aug 1962. 

^'Msg, CP 1601 15Z Nov 1962. 

^^This included all but twelve junks, which were never built. Junk Force Advisor, memos for 
record, of 25 May 1962; 28Jun; Itr, Drachnik to BUSHIPS, ser 0207 of 2Juii 1962; CHNAVSEC to 
Gamer, of 25 Oct 1962. 

230 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

high quality and were superior to those being constructed under 
Vietnamese contract. ^^ 

By July 1962, one coastal division from the 1st Coastal District was 
deployed to the 2nd Coastal District and four divisions were activated in 
the 4th Coastal District. At the end of 1962, 179 sailing junks were 
operational in ten junk divisions in the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Coastal Districts. 
Several command junks and forty-four motorized junks were deployed in 
the 4th Coastal District off the Mekong Delta and the Camau Peninsula. 
By the end of March 1963, the last five of the twenty-eight divisions were 
activated and the construction program was accelerated to fill the 
complement of each division. The Vietnamese Navy also established 
coastal surveillance centers in each of the four coastal districts to 
coordinate the inshore patrol of the junks with Sea Force ships farther out 
to sea. The first facility opened at Danang in early September 1962, 
followed by those at Vung Tau, Cam Ranh, and An Thoi in 1963. 

The junkmen received three months of training at small centers 
established at Danang, Nha Trang, Phu Quoc, and Vung Tau. Initially, 
the curriculum concentrated on small arms and land warfare techniques, 
subjects which naval advisors deemed peripheral. The advisors soon 
revised the training programs to emphasize naval topics, and the 
Vietnamese readily adopted the new curriculum. A permanent junk 
training facility was planned for Phu Quoc Island but, due to its 
inaccessibility, the location was shifted to Cam Ranh Bay in February 
1963. At that time, 92 officers and men occupied an old dilapidated 
French base which had been garrisoned by a Vietnamese Marine security 
force. In addition to training at Cam Ranh Bay, over 700 junkmen 
received specialized instruction at Saigon and Vung Tau in the operation 
and maintenance of engines, communications, first aid, intelligence, and 
psychological warfare.^"* 

In the spring of 1962 the junk force numbered about 800 men, in 
addition to a small cadre of Vietnamese naval officers and men. With the 
decision to expand the Coastal Force to twenty-eight divisions came 
authorization to increase manning levels to 459 military and 3,640 
paramilitary billets. By December 1962 the Vietnamese reported 3,243 

^'Ltr, Drachnik to Harkins, ser 0495 of 15 Oct 1962. By the end of 1963, this conclusion was 
called into question, as almost all junks suffered from severe wood shrinkage. In some cases the hull 
planks had spread three inches apart. 

"''Donald C. Schroder, End of Tour Report, of 14 Jan 1965. 

The Natal Advisory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 231 

personnel on board. In late February 1963, however, the U.S. Joint Chiefs 
of Staff authorized support for an even larger junk force of 4,425 
paramilitary men.-' Throughout this period, recruiting proved difficult 
because the relatively prosperous Vietnamese fishermen, a group targeted 
for enlistment, were not interested in joining the low-paying junk force. 
In addition, many prospective enlistees were North Vietnamese recruited 
from refugee camps. They required a certification of loyalty from the 
province chief, which often was hard to get. Desertion also was a serious 
problem in the Coastal Force. As more and more junks were built, the 
personnel shortages began to affect operations. Junks were operated with 
reduced crews and others lay idle. Commander Charles K. Presgrove, the 
Senior Junk Force Advisor, persuaded Captain Quyen to organize special 
recruiting teams to fill the quotas. The requirement for security checks 
was eased. Training periods were shortened from three months to five 
weeks, with on-the-job training substituting for classroom instruction. By 
1 November 1963, the Coastal Force included 66 officers, 375 enlisted 
men, and 3,359 paramilitary junkmen. 

Despite their myriad problems, many junkmen exuded confidence, 
believing that they were building a special organization. One indication of 
this esprit de corps was the practice adopted by some junkmen of tattooing 
Sat Cong, translated as "let us kill the Communists," on their chests. 
Captain Quyen revived the custom which had originated in the fourteenth 
century when sailors, under the naval hero Tran Hung Dao, tattooed "let 
us kill the Mongols" on their skin.^"^ 

Besides the personnel problem, the major concern in the Coastal Force 
was repair and maintenance of the junks. The 1962 Vietnamese budget 
for the junk force only funded seven divisions, while during the year the 
force was expanding to the planned twenty-eight division force. In order 
to fund the increased junk units and personnel, money was diverted from 
repairs, material, and equipment; but this came at a time when the original 
boats deployed in I960 were sorely in need of repair. The absence of 
regular preventive maintenance and the common Vietnamese attitude of 
"run it until it quits," aggravated the problem. The condition of twenty 
junks in Coastal Division 24, as reported by Lieutenant Commander Louie 
L. Lindenmayer, was typical. He explained that the boats had 

"Memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM0047-63 of 18 Feb 1963. 
^■^Msg, COMUSMACV 030945Z Jul 1962. 

232 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

been in service in the First District since November I960 with little or 
no maintenance or repairs. Their material condition has deteriorated 
until none of the junks are sea worthy enough to permit off shore patrol. 
All 20 of the junks require complete replacement of sails and most 
running rigging. Some require new masts and standing rigging. 10 of 
the 20 junks have woven bottoms that have rotted beyond repair. The 
10 remaining all wooden hull junks are in need of repairs, extensive in 
some cases." 

Other districts experienced similar difficulties. Lieutenant Wesley A. 
Hoch reported in August 1963 that in the 4th Coastal District, the 
problem was a "complete lack of adequate Civilian or Military repair 
facilities" which "creates endless problems in repairing the junks. "^* 

The establishment of repair facilities in each of the districts proceeded 
slowly, but by the end of 1963 each one had the capability for repairing 
junks locally. A center at Danang handled all junk work for the 1st Coastal 
District. A marine railway at Nha Trang, completed in November 1963, 
facilitated repairs in the 2nd Coastal District. A marine railway at Cat Lo, 
serving the 3rd Coastal District, began operation in January 1964, and 
some junks were sent to the Western Repair Facility at Can Tho. In the 
4th Coastal District, small civilian yards at Song Ong Doc and Duong 
Dong did some jobs and were augmented by a Vietnamese Navy mobile 
repair team at Rach Gia. In addition, as a result of efforts by U.S. advisors, 
the 1963 Vietnamese defense budget ensured funds for maintenance and 
repair work in the Coastal Force.'' 

The primary mission of the Coastal Force was to patrol the coast and 
randomly search craft for Communist agents or contraband. A search 
consisted of checking the identification card of the fisherman and the 
registration of his boat. This was possible because the U.S. Operations 
Mission in the U.S. Embassy had sponsored a program to register the 
35,000 junks and 200,000 fishermen of South Vietnam. The project was 
completed in 1962 by the Vietnamese customs service, with the help of 
the Coastal and Sea Forces. During a search, the junkmen looked for 
crewmen with northern accents or those who were unskilled in fishing, 
which might indicate that they were Communist agents. Similarly, salt, tea, 

"Memo, Lindenmayer to CHNAVSEC, of 18 Dec 1962. 

^^4th CD Advisor, report, of 22 Aug 1963. 

^'Ltr, Lindenmayer to CHNAVSEC, of 25 Jan 1963. 

The Nara! Adrisory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 233 

string, wood, and tobacco could often be identified as originating in 
North Vietnam.^" 

Another aid in separating the innocent fishermen from the Communist 
agents was the "Junk Blue Book," first issued in August 1962. This 
undertaking, sponsored by the Research and Development Field Unit of 
the Advanced Research Projects Agency of the Department of Defense, 
was headed by Lieutenant Colonel Marion C. Dalby, USMC, and 
Commander William L. Thede. Three-man field teams visited each of the 
twelve major population centers along the Vietnamese coast. Their 
research was augmented by aerial photography. Published with both 
English and Vietnamese texts, the book identified thirty-two distinct junk 
types and the areas where they were most commonly found. The book 
served as a training aid and identification handbook for U.S. advisors and 
Vietnamese officers assigned to coastal patrol duties. 

Initial planning called for two-thirds of the force to be at sea while one- 
third was in port to rest the crews, maintain the boats, and defend the 
base. By the summer of 1963, when the construction program was 
completed, the proportion of junks on patrol averaged between 40 and 50 
percent daily. The night, however, belonged to the Communists until the 
installation of searchlights on motorized junks resulted in some patrolling 
after dark. Repair and personnel problems were the main causes of the 
low operational figures, but poor leadership was a contributing factor. By 
the end of the year, the operational readiness rate remained between 40 
and 45 percent." 

The quality of the coastal divisions varied. Commander Jerome L. 
Ashcroft reported, after a visit to Coastal Division 33 in September 1963, 
that it was "without qualification, the best trained and most effective 
division visited by the Senior Junk Force Advisor. [The commander] is a 
professional and his men model him."" On the other hand, Ashcroft's 
unannounced visit to Coastal Division 37 about the same time found none 
of its junks on patrol. Somewhere in between were Coastal Divisions 15 
and 16. Lieutenant (j.g.) Bruce Ryan, the 1st Coastal District advisor, 
reported that 

'°JCS, report, "Project Beef-Up," of 5 Dec 1961; Navy Section, Progress Report, "Coastal 
Infiltration," of Aug 1962; "Weekly Progress Report," of 28 Aug-3 Sep 1963; Senior Junk Force 
Advisor, report, of 4 Dec 1963; JCS, report, "Visit of Team to South Vietnam," of Jan 1963. 

^'Navy Section, MAAG, "Weekly Progress Reports," of Aug-Dec 1963. 

"Ltrs, Ashcroft to CHNAVSEC, of 5 and 12 Sep 1963. 

234 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

both 15th and I6th Divisions appear to be keeping their [sailing] junks 
in good condition and frequently underway; and, although the I6th's 
primary activities seem to be commercial fishing and woodcutting as 
opposed to the more routine patrol activities of Division 15, the net 
results of the two divisions appear the same — no significant contacts.'^ 

The work of the junkmen was monotonous, but also dangerous, as one 
action on 19 August 1963 revealed. At 0300 that day, eight junks set sail 
from Cam Ranh Bay for Vinh Hy, about twenty miles to the south. The 
group patrolled the seaward approach to Vinh Hy until daybreak. Then, 
the eight junks sailed through the inlet in column about sixty yards apart, 
while Nam Du (HQ-607), a motor gunboat (PGM), stood by just outside 
the bay. At 0745 the junks fired on a deserted village which was suspected 
of harboring Viet Cong agents. When there was no return fire, the junks 
beached and prepared to land a shore party. At that point an estimated ten 
to twenty Viet Cong opened up on the beach party with small arms fire. 
As the junks pulled away from the beach. Lieutenant Dallas W. Shawkey, 
the 2nd Coastal District advisor, was hit. The junks returned the fire while 
Vietnamese corpsmen attended Shawkey. The wounded advisor was 
transferred to the PGM which steamed for Nha Trang, about two hours 
away. There he was taken to a U.S. Army field hospital to recover from his 

During 1962 the Vietnamese Navy caught 320 enemy junks and 
captured 111 confirmed Viet Cong. All of the prisoners were engaged in 
intracoastal transport within South Vietnam. However, six Communists 
were captured in March 1962 carrying explosives in sampans across the 
Cambodian border on the Mekong and Bassac Rivers. By April 1963, 
when all twenty-eight coastal divisions were deployed, U.S. advisors 
evaluated control of the coast as 90 percent effective. In the first six 
months of the year, only one incident involved a North Vietnamese junk, 
which was captured near Hue. In 1963 only a small number of sampans 
was infiltrating across the Cambodian border on the Mekong River. By 
year's end, the Coastal Force and Sea Force had checked 127,000 junks 
and 353,000 fishermen. Of the 3,000 suspects detained, the Sea Force 
took 500 and the Coastal Force 2,500. The coastal surveillance efforts 

"Ltr, ISTCDADV to CHNAVSEC, of 15 Apr 1963. See also Navy Section, Fact Sheet, of Aug 
1962; ARPA, 'Junk Blue Book." 

'■•Msg, COMUSMACV 190450Z Aug 1963; ltr, B.D. Graham to Senior Naval Advisor, of 19 Aug 

The Naval Advisory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 


^ Q 









236 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

continued to discover mostly internal Viet Cong traffic, rather than 
infiltration into the country. This conclusion was indicated by the fact that, 
in 1963, of the 150 confirmed Viet Cong only six had come from outside 
the country." 

From the small number of Viet Cong taken by the junk force, it 
appeared that no large-scale sea infiltration from North Vietnam of men 
and supplies had occurred. Lieutenant Mark V. Nelson, the 1st Coastal 
District advisor, reported: 

[The Vietnamese commander] and I, as does [MACV Intelligence] 
think that there is a very small chance that the VC are infiltrating by sea. 
Most of the VC are in the mountains and this is where the operations are 
going on. Resupply is highly unlikely because of the great distances that 
goods must be carried through government held land. It is true that Psy 
War personnel are operating along the coast but these people do not 
carry weapons and it is next to impossible to catch them except through 
the use of agents."' 

Communist support for their forces in the northern part of South Vietnam 
probably came directly across the Demilitarized Zone or over the border 
from Laos. Most Communist traffic along the 1 ,200 miles of coastline in 
South Vietnam consisted of infiltration of small bands of key cadre or of 
intracoastal movement of small amounts of men and supplies. The junk 
force certainly hampered such movement but by no means completely 
stopped it. The appearance of Communist-made heavy weapons in the 
Mekong Delta suggested that some equipment was brought into that area 
by sea, but there was no evidence in 1963 to confirm this. Captain 
Drachnik later observed that "I was convinced in my mind. ..that during 
those years there was no effective infiltration by sea... and Mr. McNamara 
told me later when I was on his staff in the Pentagon that he too was 

However, evidence subsequently obtained adds credence to the 
contention that North Vietnam stepped up the previously minor infiltra- 
tion effort in 1963. Under the aegis of the North Vietnamese Navy's 
125th Sea Transportation Unit (formerly Group 759), the Communists 
began construction in their shipyards of trawlers with a cargo capacity of 

"Navy Section, Fact Sheet, "Coastal Infiltration," of 1963. 

"Ltr, 1st CO Advisor to Senior Junk Force Advisor, of 16 Aug 1963. 

'Drachnik, Interview with Moss, p. 8. 

The Naval Adi'isorf and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 237 

50 to 100 tons. During 1963, the first full year of operation, the unit 
conducted eight trips to the South. The small trawlers carried arms and 
ammunition primarily to the Camau Peninsula area, to the mouth of the 
Mekong River, and to the central coast of Vietnam. This latter area 
included delivery sites in northern Khanh Hoa, Phu Yen, and Binh Dinh 
Provinces. Often flying the Chinese Communist flag to conceal their 
identity, these ships sailed on moonless nights to a point about sixty miles 
offshore. This placed them beyond the effective surveillance zone of the 
Vietnamese Navy. At the optimum time, the ships made a run to the 
beach or unloaded into junks offshore. None of these trawlers was 
detected in 1963, much less stopped or sunk.^^ 

In view of the unexciting patrol routine and meager results, it was not 
surprising that the junk commanders favored independent raiding opera- 
tions. The commander of Coastal Division 33 mounted a typical operation 
in July 1963. He had received reports from local villagers that the 206th 
Viet Cong Company was headquartered at the village of Dong near the 
mouth of the Soirap River. The reports indicated that the Viet Cong unit 
planned to attack a nearby village on the 20th, leaving behind in Dong 
only a small garrison. Deciding to assault the lightly manned base, the 
division commander sortied with a command junk and a River Force 
vedette from his base at Vam Lang, six miles to the north. He entered the 
channel to Dong about noon on 20 July. With machine guns blazing, the 
command junk landed the thirty-man raiding party, which started inland 
to Dong. Almost immediately the machine guns on both the vedette and 
the command junk jammed and the troops were called back to the boats, 
which withdrew to repair the weapons. A second landing was attempted, 
but then the Communists drove off the boats. Four men were wounded. In 
the meantime, requests for air support were turned down by the sector 
headquarters. The sailors faced the entire Viet Cong company, which had 
returned earlier than expected. Undaunted, the force mounted a second 
attack the next day, this time with a PGM in support. Beginning about 
noon on the 21st, the PGM began a two and one-half hour bombardment 

"MACV, ■•SECDEF Conf Agenda Book, General Harkins," of 19 Dec 1963; CICV, report, -VC/ 
NVA Gunrunners," No. SR67-002 of 9 Aug 1966; NAVFORV, '■Maritime Infiltration into the 
Republic of Vietnam," of 4 Mar 1967; CINCPAC, ■■QNCPAC/COMPONENTS Assessment of Sea 
Infiltration, Committee B," of Jul 1967; CINCPAC, '•Infiltration Study," of 1 May 1968; DIA, "Viet 
Cong Use of Cambodia," No. 6028 3647 68 of 10 May 1968; CIA, report. No. FIR-3I 1/01873-74 
of 27 Jun 1974; Judith Erdheim, Market Time, study CRC 280 (Washington: Center for Naval 
Analyses, 1975); Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Vietnam: The Anti-U.S. Resistance W^ar, p. 32. 

238 United States Napy and Vietnam Conflict 

of Dong, which drove off the defenders. The raiding party landed at 1430 
and met no resistance. After searching the area and finding numerous 
booby traps and mud fortifications, the junkmen departed.^' 

The Vietnamese wanted to increase their small force of paramilitary 
commandos, named Biet Hai, and assign thirty-eight-man units to each of 
the twenty-eight divisions. But Captain Drachnik discouraged the plan 
because of the logistical problems of supporting such a large force and the 
danger that the original Coastal Force mission of patrolling would be 
diluted by commando operations. As a result, the Vietnamese Department 
of State for National Defense did not approve further funding for the 
commandos, and the program died early in 1963. Forty-two of the Biet 
Hai were transferred to Saigon to fill the ranks of the regular navy's 
LDNN "frogman" force. The remainder of the men were dispersed 
among the coastal divisions, where they filled critical billets in the rapidly 
expanding command.^" 

The Coastal Force also participated in joint operations with army and 
local paramilitary forces. A typical action occurred in January 1963 in 
Phuoc Tuy Province. While Civil Guard and army ranger companies 
swept toward the coast, the Coastal Force patrolled off the beach to stop 
the enemy's evasion by water. Four motorized sailing junks, with two 
sailing junks in tow, arrived on station at 0800 on the 17th about twenty- 
five miles up the coast from Vung Tau. The junks sailed up and down the 
coast forming a three and one-half mile barrier before moving six miles 
farther up the coast to Tuan Bien to land a thirty-man commando force. A 
small group of three Viet Cong stumbled on the landing party. One man 
was seized as his two companions fled, after which the junkmen destroyed 
those captured Viet Cong stocks of rice, lumber, and potatoes that they 
could not carry back to Vung Tau. During the landing one sailing junk 
was grounded and then pounded by the surf. The force commander 
ordered the craft dragged onto the beach for repairs. By 2000 a platoon of 
Civil Guards arrived to reinforce the junkmen and a short time later the 
defenders drove off an attacking Communist platoon, killing two of the 
enemy. The operation ended on the 22nd when the junk was abandoned 
as unsalvageable. Then a seventy-man force of sailors marched inland and 
destroyed a Viet Cong village one mile from the coast. Reaching the main 

"3rd CD Advisor, report, of 25 Jul 1963. 

""Peter W. Willits, End of Tour Report, of 29 Feb 1964. 

The Naval Advisory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 239 

road to Vung Tau, the force boarded trucks which returned them to their 

Often the Coastal Force was called upon to transport men and materials 
along the coast. For example, in December 1962, when the province chief 
of Phuoc Tuy Province asked for Coastal Force assistance in relocating 
villagers in his province, the junkmen agreed, even though operating on 
inland waterways was not one of their functions. On the 6th junks picked 
up a platoon of Vietnamese Army rangers and a platoon of Self Defense 
Corps troops and landed them at positions along the waterways between 
the old village near the coast and the new hamlet at Phuoc Hoa, about six 
miles inland on Route 15. Then, the five motorized and twenty sailing 
junks transported the villagers and their belongings to the new homes. 
When the operation was over on the afternoon of the 8th, the junks and 
several civilian craft had relocated 1,400 villagers. 

The Sea Force Improves its Blue Water Capability 

The inauguration of the combined U.S. -South Vietnamese coastal 
patrol in December 1961 touched off a concerted effort to provide the 
Sea Force with more and better ships. The original Fiscal Year 1962 
Military Assistance Program called for the delivery of 212 fifty-six-foot 
minesweeping launches (MLMS). In view of the Coastal Patrol Plan, 
approved by the Joint Chiefs of Staff in January 1962, the Chief of the 
MAAG decided that implementation of the plan should take precedence 
over developing the minesweeping capability of the Vietnamese Navy. 
Therefore, he recommended that twelve PGMs be substituted for the 
MLMS craft. 

The 100-foot PGM, built especially for foreign navies, was an ideal ship 
for the Vietnamese considering its small crew, simple design, and low 
maintenance demands. The Vietnamese Naval Deputy, Quyen, promoted 
to captain in June 1962, planned to deploy the PGM inshore so its speed, 
maneuverability, fire power, radar, and excellent communication equip- 
ment could be put to best use. Because labor shortages at the U.S. 
shipyard delayed initial delivery, however, the first ships did not arrive in 
Vietnam until 1963.'" 

•"Msgs, CHMAAGVN 230409ZJan 1962; 021029Z Feb; CP 062321ZJul; memo, CHNAVSEC 
to CNO VNN, ser 00214 of 15 Oct 1962. 

240 United States Naty and Vietnam Conflict 

The PGM was a welcome addition to the Vietnamese Navy's coastal 
patrol capability, but spare parts for the foreign-made Mercedes Benz 
engines proved hard to obtain. As early as November 1961, Captain 
Easterling questioned the use of these engines in the PGM based on his 
staff's study of the Philippine Navy's less than positive experience with 
them. Captain Drachnik, Easterling's successor, expressed similar reserva- 
tions. The Bureau of Ships assured the MAAG that spare parts would not 
be a problem, observing that the navies of Burma, Thailand, the 
Philippines, India, and Indonesia all used the same engines and stocked 
parts for them. In addition, no U.S. -made engine could meet the size, 
horsepower, and delivery requirements. The PGMs were in operation less 
than a year, with the engines generally performing well, when a spare 
parts problem began to appear. By the end of 1963 less than half the spare 
parts requested had been received from the Mercedes Benz supplier in 
New York.^2 

In addition to 10 of the PGMs, the U.S. Navy transferred to the Sea 
Force 2 LSMs, 3 LSTs, 1 YOG, 12 MLMSs, and 2 fleet minesweepers 
(MSF) in 1962 and 1963. The Vietnamese accepted MSTS LSTs rather 
than combat-configured ships, which would have required costly reactiva- 
tions from the Reserve Fleet. The two MSFs (formerly Gayety (MSF-239) 
and Sentry (MSF-299)) were not used as minesweepers by the Vietnamese 
but converted to escorts (PCE). The MLMSs were reconfigured to 
counter the major mining threat — command detonated mines on inland 
waters. Even though they operated primarily in the Rung Sat swamp 
below Saigon, the MLMSs remained a part of the Sea Force. 

The 3 LSTs, the 2 new LSMs, and the 5 LSMs already in the Vietnamese 
Navy gave the fleet a capability to transport over 10,000 tons of cargo a 
month. Because of poor planning, however, the ships hauled only 5,000 
to 8,000 tons of cargo a month during 1962 and 1963. Although naval 
advisors wanted the Vietnamese to develop an amphibious capability, the 
primary use of the landing ships was for logistic support of the army along 
the coast of South Vietnam, particularly in the northern part of the 
country where the rail line was usually cut by Viet Cong sabotage. In a 

"Ltrs, CHBUSHIPS to CHNAVSEC, ser 009083 n.d.; CHNAVSEC to CHBUSHIPS, ser 008 1 of 
27 Nov 1961; ser 0011 of 18 Jan 1962; B.H. Palmer to CHNAVSEC, of 15 Nov; msg, 
CHMAAGVN 160255Z Nov 1963; Hardcastle, Interview. 

The Naval Advisory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 241 

typical operation, in the summer of 1963, five LSMs carried ammunition 
from Saigon to army forces in Danang and returned with excess 
equipment and prisoners. The LSMs were often directed to pick up or 
deliver cargo to Nha Trang or Qui Nhon on these cruises, which lasted 
from seven to ten days.**^ 

Vietnamese crews accepted transfer of most of the larger ships in the 
United States and, after receiving several weeks of training and familiar- 
ization, sailed them to Vietnam. Mobile training teams were dispatched to 
Southeast Asia to give instruction in the operation of smaller craft, such as 
the MLMSs. Mobile Training Team 3-63, commanded by Lieutenant (j.g.) 
Dennis Mclnerby, trained ninety-one Vietnamese crewmen in the opera- 
tion of the MLMSs at Vung Tau between August and December 1963.'*'' 

Because high-level U.S. planners looked at Vietnam and other MAP 
recipients as part of the overall collective security system in Asia, these 
navies were intended not only to defend their own countries, but to 
contribute to the allied effort. Although the North Vietnamese did not 
have submarines, the Soviets and Chinese Communists did. Thus, Admiral 
Felt expressed his concern about the low priority given to antisubmarine 
warfare by countries in the Pacific Command. While Captain Drachnik 
observed that "there is insufficient evidence to support a theory of a 
submarine threat from the VC or the DRV,'"*' broader defense needs 
required South Vietnamese readiness to deal with the undersea danger. 
Accordingly, the Force Objective Plan of April 1963, as had others before 
it, called for the continued development of an ASW capability in the 
Vietnamese Navy. 

Until the policy was reviewed in 1965, PCs were required to keep their 
antisubmarine warfare equipment operational and from time to time to 
participate in exercises. Submarine chaser Van Don (HQ-06) engaged in 
one exercise with Bluegill (SS-242) on 6 April 1962, two days after the 
American submarine visited Saigon. Similarly, between 29 August and 6 
September 1962, four of the Vietnamese Navy's PCs and one PCE 
operated with Queenfish (SS-393) about forty miles off Nha Trang. The 
final combined antisubmarine warfare exercise in this period occurred 

"COMPHIBPAC, report, 6-S-62 of 23 Jul 1962; ONI, report, ll-S-62 of 3 Oct. 
''■'Ltrs, OICMTT 3-63 to CHNAVSEC, of 26 Nov 1963; OICMTT 3-63 to CNO, ser 4950 of 13 
Dec; Le Ba Thang, Interview, pp. 5-7. 

"^Ltr, CHNAVSEC to CO VNN, ser 0378 of 23 Aug 1962. 

242 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

between 7 and 14 April 1963, when Capitaine (AGSS-336) trained with 
six Vietnamese Navy PCs and PCEs under the command of Lieutenant 
Commander Dinh Manh Hung. No exercises were scheduled in the latter 
half of 1963 and thereafter, because Captain Drachnik felt that the Sea 
Force ships could not be spared from the more crucial coastal patrol 

A similar theater defense planning requirement motivated the Vietnam- 
ese Navy's preparation to sweep coastal waters for sophisticated magnetic 
and acoustic mines. Hence, in March 1962 three MSCs sailed to the 
Philippines to conduct degaussing (demagnetizing) operations with Surf- 
bird (ADG-383). On board the Vietnamese ships were forty-five midship- 
men from the Vietnamese Naval Academy taking their first training 
cruise. Then, from 20 to 22 August two of the MSCs participated with a 
British flotilla in a minesweeping exercise off Vietnam. In August 1963, 
to save time, Surfbird visited Cam Ranh Bay to provide the same services 
she had at Sangley. Late that year, a portable degaussing range was 
installed at Cam Ranh Bay, so that the Vietnamese were no longer 
dependent upon the United States for these services. ^^ 

More relevant to the current military situation in South Vietnam were 
amphibious operations, in which the Sea Force figured prominently. 
Throughout the period, U.S. advisors encouraged the Vietnamese to carry 
out landings with amphibious ships rather than use them on logistic 
operations. Showing initiative in this regard, the Vietnamese Navy 
undertook a large-scale amphibious operation on the Camau Peninsula in 
January 1963. The start of the operation was delayed, partly because of 
controversy over control of the forces. The IV Corps commander, an army 
general, disagreed with plans to give overall command to the navy. 
Nonetheless, the operation was finally placed under the direct control of 
Captain Quyen for both the landing and ground phases of the action. 
Although the command setup caused no serious problems, U.S. naval 

"'Msg, ALUSNA Saigon 181001Z Apr 1962; memo, SECNAV to SECDEF, of 8 Aug 1962; Itrs, 
CO Capitaine to CHNAVSEC, ser 028 of 18 Apr 1963; Senior Junk Force Advisor to CHNAVSEC, 
of 19 Apr;J.O. Richterjr., End of Tour Report, ser 5213 of 23 Apr 1964; Itr, CHNAVSEC to CO 
VNN, ser N0438-63 of 3 May 1963; CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1963; Dinh Manh Hung, 
transcript of interview with Oscar P. Fitzgerald, Naval Historical Center, in Alexandria, VA, 19 and 
21 Aug 1975, pp. 4-7. 

■'■'Ur, CHNAVSEC to CO VNN, ser 875 of 18 Oct 1960; memos, SECNAV to SECDEF, of 16 
Nov 1962; CO Surjhrd to CHMAAGVN, ser 091 of 17 Sep 1963; msg, CHNAVSEC 1 10053Z Apr 
1963; Browne, Interview. 

The Naval Advisory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 243 

advisors recommended that in future operations the command arrange- 
ments follow more closely the American practice, which passed control of 
the operation to a Marine or Army officer once the landing force was 
established ashore. 

A naval task force of 1 LST and 4 LSMs, carrying two marine battalions 
and their American Marine advisors, later joined by 2 LSILs, and 1 LSSL, 
sailed on 1 January 1963 to begin the largest naval and amphibious 
operation ever mounted by the Vietnamese. A second LSSL, plus units of 
the 22nd RAG and two junk divisions, also participated. Because of the 
shallow depth of the water off the Camau Peninsula, the marines landed in 
small assault boats. They met no resistance and in fact found the intended 
objective stripped of military material. Apparently, the Viet Cong had 
expected the attack and fled. On the 8th both marine battalions were 
picked up and transported to Tan An by an LST and an LSM in order to 
begin Phase II of the operation. Meanwhile, RAG units patrolled inland 
waterways to cut off food shipments to Communist troops and provide 
troop lift and gunfire support if the need arose. ""^ 

By the end of the month the Vietnamese encountered only light 
resistance, but they accomplished their mission of expanding government 
control in an area which long had been a Communist stronghold. 
Casualties stood at 5 killed and 28 wounded, while Communist losses 
were estimated as 40 killed and many more wounded. During the rest of 
January Vietnamese engineers also constructed several strategic hamlets 
and resettled 3,000 people in the vicinity of Nam Can. In February 
Communist opposition to government inroads into their territory intensi- 
fied. The land phase of the operation was terminated on 4 March 1963. 
Not until the mid-1960s would regular government troops return here in 

Even though the marines departed in March, the Sea Force continued 
to patrol the area in support of the Civil Guard-manned outposts at Nam 
Can, Ong Trang, and Tan An. The seven-day patrol of LSSL Linh Kiem 
(HQ-226) on the Bo De and Cua Lon Rivers in mid-1963 was typical. 
Beginning on 27 August, the ship escorted an LSM to Tan An, 

""Navy Section, •'Weekly Progress Reports," of 28 Dec 1962-3 Jan 1963; 4-10 Jan; 1 1-17 Jan; Itrs, 
CHNAVSEC, ser 1100-63 of 23 Apr 1963; CINCPAC, ser 00394 of 29 Apr. 

'"Naval History Division, "History of Naval Operations in Vietnam, 1946-1963," pp. 224-27. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 


Linh Kiem (HQ-226). an LSSL of the Vietnamese Navy's Sea Force, patrols one of South 
Vietnam's innumerable inland ivateruays. 

transported Viet Cong prisoners to Ong Trang, and fired shore bombard- 
ment exercises along the river banks. After observing the operation of the 
LSSL, an American advisor, Lieutenant Jon A. Askland, stated that "of the 
seven day patrol, few tangible results can be reported. [But] the LSSL is 
on patrol primarily as a deterrent, and as a deterrent, the ship was 
effective." The Viet Cong chose not to risk exposure to the LSSL's one 3- 
inch, four 40-millimeter, and four 20-millimeter guns.'" 

°Ltr, J.A. Askland lo CHNAVSEC, of 4 Sep 1963. 

The Naval Advisory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 245 

The River Force 

As with the other components of the Vietnamese Navy, the River Force 
expanded as a result of the U.S. government's decision of November 
1961 to give added support to the Vietnamese. During 1962 a sixth RAG, 
with nineteen boats and about 250 men, was activated. One LCM arrived 
from the United States in February and seven LCVPs in April to fill the 
unit's complement. The other eleven boats were former derelicts recondi- 
tioned at the Saigon Naval Shipyard. The new RAG was conceived as a 
mobile group which would operate from a mother ship, an LCU, in the 
Saigon River and the Rung Sat in support of Vietnamese Army forces. '^ 
The new RAG, designated the 22nd River Assault Group, became 
operational on 1 September 1962. Less than two weeks later, the unit 
sailed for the Rung Sat, with one company of marines embarked, to test 
the new mobile concept during the thirty-day deployment. The unit 
landed small parties of marines dressed in civilian clothes to gather 
intelligence and then transported larger units to the area to take advantage 
of the information collected. The operation was concluded on 8 October 
with the following results: 26 enemy soldiers killed and 1 arms factory, 1 
hospital, 1 training camp, and 1 sector headquarters destroyed, at a cost of 
1 sailor killed and 3 wounded. A captured Communist document 
bemoaned the success of the operation: "Disruption of traffic lines and 
shortage of food stuffs is critical. All units and elements send inventory of 
anti-boat weapons for coordination of counter-action. "^- 

In addition to the boats for the new RAG, the River Force received 
twenty-four monitors, LCVPs, and other craft. The River Force controlled 
a total of 208 boats at the end of 1963, almost twice the number in the 
force in 1959. However, only 157 of the 208 boats were armed and 
armored. The remaining craft, consisting of LCUs and LCVPs, provided 
local transportation at Danang, Nha Trang, Cam Ranh, Vung Tau, Phu 
Quoc, Can Tho, and Saigon. 

As the River Force grew in size, its primary mission remained the same: 
to support army operations in the Mekong Delta. Other than occasional 
efforts during army operations, the River Force did not attempt significant 

^'Navy Section, Progress Report, "22nd River Assault Group," of 18 Jul 1962. 
'^Navy Section, Progress Repon, "Status of VNN River Force," of 6 Sep 1962. See also Undated 
Brief, "Activation of 22nd River Assault Group;" msg, ALUSNA Saigon 172210Z Oct 1962. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

South China Sea 

30 Miles 

to Tuan Bien 

Rung Sat Swamp 

interdiction of Communist waterway traffic in the delta. During 1963, for 
example, a typical daily deployment consisted of 12 boats on combat 
operations, 9 in static guard duty, 12 operating with province chiefs, 15 in 

The Naval Adrisory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 247 

training, upkeep, or repair, and 66 idle. Considering that a small 
percentage of the RAG boats were being used, naval advisors deleted the 
proposal for yet another RAG, which the Vietnamese had requested, from 
the Fiscal Year 1963 MAP budget.'' 

Only an expansion of the mission of the River Force to include river 
interdiction, it was reasoned, could justify additional boats. Secretary 
McNamara raised the possibility of adding new functions during his visit 
of September 1963, but Captain Drachnik resisted attempts to broaden 
the mission of the River Force. He saw its main role as one of transport. In 
addition, he believed that there was little Viet Cong use of the rivers and 
felt that extensive interdiction efforts would yield only meager results.''* 

Despite Captain Drachnik's views, on 1 June 1963 the Vietnamese 
Navy established a patrol area along the Cambodian border, where 
Vietnamese customs agents and units of the River Force and Self Defense 
Corps had reported seven attempts at cross-border smuggling of explo- 
sives during the previous three months. The patrols were conducted by 
one Sea Force ship, usually an LSSL or LSIL with a shallow enough draft to 
navigate the rivers, and two River Force LCVPs or STCANs. The patrols, 
which continued through the end of the year, normally found only 
contraband goods of a non-military nature. U.S. advisors speculated that 
the Viet Cong could hear or see the vessels far enough away for the 
Communists to hide or jettison their cargo. Still, night patrols and 
stationary, noiseless ambushes were no more successful. On the other 
hand, the presence of well-armed ships and craft in their area was 
comforting to pro-government Vietnamese in the border towns threat- 
ened with Communist attack." 

In October 1963, General Harkins appointed a study group of four 
MACV intelligence officers and six MAAG officers from the Navy 
Section to study the extent of inland waterway and coastal infiltration. The 
group learned that sixteen tons of explosive components had been found 
on junks searched during the March to September period. Also, the group 
found that much intracoastal movement of Communist personnel occurred 

'^MACV, "Agenda Items for Conference with President Diem, Aug 1963." 

^"Ltrs, Drachnik to Ricketts, of 13 Mar 1964, p. 2; A.A. Levine to CHNAVSEC, of 18 Nov 1963. 

"Drachnik, Interview with Fitzgerald; Itrs, J.O. Richter, Jr., to CHNAVSEC, of lOJun 1963;J.A. 

Askland to CHNAVSEC, of 17 Dec; Navy Section, Fact Sheet, "VNN Boats," of 30 Oct 1963; Navy 

Section, "Study of Requirements for Additional River Craft in Delta," of 18 Oct 1963 Tab 1 to report 

of Delta Infiltration Study Group (Bucklew Board), of Feb 1964. 

248 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

in the delta. The members concluded that "Cambodia's broad Mekong 
River system, flowing generally from north to south, represents the most 
convenient channels for Communist supplies destined for the VC in 
southern Vietnam." They also decided that "coastal seaborne infiltration 
would appear to be limited to specialized items of equipment and high 
level VC cadre and agents." However, these evaluators added that 
although the Vietnamese Navy's control of inland waterways was "woe- 
fully inadequate," there was not enough verified intelligence available to 
judge the extent of Viet Cong use of these avenues.'^ 

The major mission of the River Force continued to be support of army 
troops in the Mekong Delta. Often, however, the army did not permit 
naval officers to participate in the planning of operations, which some- 
times had detrimental effects. Such was the case in three operations 
mounted between 27 March and 5 April 1962, the purposes of which 
were to lift troops to an objective and then patrol the adjacent waterways 
to prevent Communist escape by water. In the first operation, three LCMs 
carrying troops reached a bridge north of Saigon, where they had to wait 
ten hours for the next low tide before further passage was possible. In the 
second operation, a convoy of 4 LCMs, 4 LCVPs, and 4 STCANs were 
delayed for nine hours at a Viet Cong barricade, on the Thap Muoi Canal, 
which military engineers had failed to clear to a depth that would allow 
passage at low tide. In a third operation, two LCVPs landed troops at low 
tide, which forced the soldiers to wade 500 meters through mud and 
water before they reached the river bank. 

During the next month, the Vietnamese tested a new system of 
coordination where they established a naval operations command center at 
army headquarters. After studying copies of the operation plan, detailed 
charts of the area, and tide and current tables, the center advised the army 
commander on the employment of the navy's units. At least during that 
month, the delays of earlier operations were avoided. As a further 
solution, in the fall of 1963, operational control of most of the RAGs was 
transferred from the army corps commanders to the newly created naval 
zone commanders. Under the new arrangement, the mobile RAG and the 
River Transport Escort Group remained under the direct operational 
control of the River Force commander.'^ 

^""Navy Section, "Study Requirements for Additional River Craft." 

''NA Saigon, report, 59-62 of 13 Jun 1962; Navy Section, Progress Report, "Status of VNN River 
Force," of Sep 1963. 

The Naval Advisor)' and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 249 

Another organizational hindrance was the common practice of province 
chiefs drawing on the navy's river fleet to perform static defense missions. 
Captain Quyen had long opposed this practice, which limited the number 
of boats available for mobile operations and hindered an orderly 
maintenance program for the River Force. Addressing this problem in 

1962, the United States provided 145 LCVPs to form twenty boat 
companies for use by Vietnamese province chiefs. These paramilitary Civil 
Guard boat units were created in June 1962. The Vietnamese Navy 
trained the first boat crews. Then, in July 1963, a formal Civil Guard Boat 
Operation Training Center was established on the Saigon River. The boat 
companies were deployed to most of the provinces in the III and IV Corps 
areas, where they relieved Vietnamese River Force units of many support 
duties. Each company usually contained eight boats and two platoons of 
troops, with a strength of 4 officers and 134 men. The boat units 
supported counterinsurgency operations, provided vessels for static guard 
duty, and occasionally went out on patrol. Although the boat companies 
suffered from the usual problems with poor preventive maintenance, 
repair, supply support, and operational readiness, they did improve the 
mobility of local forces and eased the burden on River Force resources. ^^ 

While bettering the command structure and acquiring additional 
resources for the riverine war, the River Force took steps to help counter 
Viet Cong ambush and mining attacks, which totalled seventy-three 
incidents in the first ten months of 1963. U.S. and Vietnamese naval 
officers mounted flamethrowers on selected LCMs, as was done during the 
French Indochina War, and developed anti-mining equipment. One such 
device consisted of a chain with cutters welded on, which proved effective 
against the wires controlling the electrically detonated mines used by the 
enemy. ^' 

The personnel situation in the River Force also improved from 1961 to 

1963. While a number of craft were laid up for lack of crews early in the 
period, an increase in personnel allocations soon solved that problem. The 
River Force school, which opened in Saigon on 15 December 1961, 

'*U.S. Army Advisory Detachment, "LCVP Density River Patrol (Boat) Companies, Regional 
Force," of 13 Jan 1965; "Regional Force River Patrol Group," of Nov 1965; msg, CHMAAG 
22084 IZ Jan 1962. 

''CHMAAGVN, report, 2 Sep 1961-8 Feb 1962; Ray C. Nieman, End of Tour Repon, of 10 May 
1962; Navy Section, "Requirements for Additional River Craft;" Itr, River Force Advisor to 
CHNAG, of 6 Mar 1964. 

250 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

began graduating 200 men every month. By late 1963, the RAGs were 
fully manned. ""^ 

U.S. Naval Augmentation of the Vietnamese Air Force 

As might be expected, the primary focus of naval interest in Vietnam 
was on improving the Vietnamese Navy, but the U.S. Navy also played a 
part in the development of the Vietnamese Air Force. The principal 
tactical aircraft in the Vietnamese Air Force inventory was the aging 
Grumman F8F Bearcat, built for the United States during World War II. 
The durable Bearcat was deemed the most appropriate aircraft for the 
fledgling Vietnamese Air Force in the mid-1950s. By 1960, however, 
they had seen hard service and were at the end of their useful life. The 
decision was made to replace them with the U.S. Navy's AD-6 attack 
aircraft, the single-engine Skyraider built by the Douglas Aircraft Corpo- 
ration during the 1950s. SS Breton sailed for Vietnam on 1 September 
I960 with the initial consignment of six aircraft, along with supporting 
equipment. Another nineteen aircraft reached Vietnam in increments, 
until all twenty-five planes of the proposed first squadron had arrived by 
the end of May 1961. 

A total of eighteen qualified pilots also were trained to fly the plane at 
the Navy's schools in the United States, and another six pilots received 
instruction in the T-28 trainer, before progressing to the AD. Additional- 
ly, eleven mechanics and five radio specialists received instruction in the 
United States, while a six-man American mobile training team prepared 
maintenance technicians in Vietnam from September to December 

During 1961 the U.S. Air Force programmed forty T-28B Nomad 
aircraft, a modified, high-performance version of the T-28, to replace the 
older trainers in the Vietnamese air arm. However, when the U.S. Air 
Force could not make the Nomad immediately available, the U.S. Navy 
agreed to loan the Vietnamese fifteen T-28Bs. All of the aircraft had 

^"MACV, "February 1962 Secretary of Defense Conference, Agenda Book;" Drachnik, Interview 
with Fit2gerald; T. T. Beattie, Jr., End of Tour Report, of 16 Dec 1964. Navy Section, Progress 
Report, 1963; Chung Tan Cang, Interview, pp. 42-46. 

"'CINCPAC, Command History, 1960, pp. 141-42, 156; 1961, p. 186; USAF, "Journal of Mutual 
Security," of Jun 1961, Office of Air Force History, p. 159. 

The Naral Adi-isory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 251 

arrived by 29 December 1961. On 4 December 1961, a joint Navy-Air 
Force training group arrived at the Nha Trang airfield to instruct 
Vietnamese pilots and maintenance personnel. In addition, sixty-five T-28 
pilots were trained under the Fiscal Year 1962 Military Assistance 
Program, thirty-five by the Navy and thirty by the Air Force. A total of 
twenty of these pilots trained by the Navy also received instruction flying 
the AD-6. By June 1962, the fifteen T-28s on loan were transferred 
permanently to the Vietnamese Air Force. ^^ 

During 1962 and 1963, the U.S. Navy continued to provide some 
support to the Vietnamese Air Force. In addition to the original twenty- 
five AD-6 aircraft (redesignated A-lHs in 1962), the Navy furnished 
eleven replacement aircraft in the Fiscal Year 1962 and Fiscal Year 1963 
Military Assistance Programs. In March 1963 a second squadron of 
twenty-five A-lHs was approved for the Vietnamese Air Force. The Navy 
also provided pilot and maintenance training. Mobile Training Team 8- 
63, composed of three instructors headed by Lieutenant Commander 
Thomas J. Conway, arrived in South Vietnam on 1 May 1963 for a five- 
month assignment. The training included day and night flying and the 
teaching of Vietnamese instructors. By the time the team departed 
Vietnam on 26 September 1963, it had prepared thirty pilots for A-IH 
operations. While the earlier aircraft and training that the U.S. Navy 
provided for the Vietnamese Air Force was included in the Air Force 
portion of the Military Assistance Program, the twenty-five aircraft 
provided in Fiscal Year 1964 were funded by the Navy.^' 

Mobile Training Team 1-64, composed of ten aircraft technicians and 
commanded by Lieutenant Commander Philip S. Arp, arrived in Vietnam 
in October 1963 to provide training in maintenance of the A-IH. Over 
the next five months the team trained 181 Vietnamese Air Force enlisted 
personnel. Not one of the students dropped out of the course. Lieutenant 
Commander Arp commented that the success of the team "was due 
primarily to the excellent facilities, remarkable receptiveness and eager- 
ness of the students and to the complete and wholehearted support of the 

"^^USAF, "Journal of Military Assistance," of Sep 1961, Office of Air Force History, pp. 6-7; Jun 
1962, p. 179; msg, CP 201947Z Mar 1962. 

"^'USAF, "Journal of Military Assistance," of Sep 1964, Office of Air Force History, p. 178; Dec 
1964, pp. 180-81; MTT 8-63, repon, of 9 Aug 1963; USAF, repon, "Study Group on Vietnam," of 
May 1964. 

252 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

U.S. Air Force."''"' However, the Navy, in particular the mobile training 
teams, was in large part responsible for the success of this program to 
strengthen the Vietnamese Air Force during the years from 1961 to 1963. 

The Support Establishment in Saigon 

With the U.S. military community in South Vietnam rapidly expanding 
after the presidential decisions of late 1961, steps were taken to establish a 
logistic command. The proposed command would provide support to the 
newly created MACV and to MAAG and other American personnel in the 
Saigon area. Logically the Army, with the greatest number of personnel in 
Vietnam, might have been expected to assume this new function. But, 
under a directive of the Secretary of Defense that divided worldwide 
responsibilities, issued in 1958, the Navy was charged with assuring 
administrative and logistic support for unified commands in the Pacific 
area. This requirement included the provision of food, pay, billeting, 
medical care, and other support common to all the services.*^' 

Previously, Army elements of the MAAG had taken care of in-country 
needs, but the smaller naval contingent assisted in the effort. Naval 
doctors and dentists staffed a dispensary established in 1959 to serve 
Americans in Saigon. The Navy also furnished commissary services. In 
August 1959, the facility in Saigon was separated from the parent Naval 
Exchange at Subic Bay and established as an independent function soon 

The proposal to increase the service's role in the logistic support of U.S. 
forces in South Vietnam was not endorsed enthusiastically by all naval 
leaders. Admiral John H. Sides, the Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific 
Fleet, argued that "Navy support is not logical in this case nor required by 
existing" directives. He cited Japan, Korea, and Okinawa as places where 
naval administrative support of U.S. forces had not been considered 
necessary: "The HQ will be predominately Army and it simply does not 
make sense that we be the janitors." Admiral Sides reached this conclusion 
after considering a study prepared by Captain Malcolm C. Friedman, who 

'^MTT 1-64, report, of 21 Mar 1964. 

■^^DOD Directive 5100.3, of 12 Sep 1958; memo, OP-40 to Callahan, ser 0063P401 of 12 Jan 
"'Memo, OP-40 to CNO, ser BM14-62 of 12 Feb 1962; HSAS, "Notes for History." 

The Nafal Advisory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 253 

handled military assistance matters on the CINCPACFLT staff.'"'' 

Admiral Sides's objections reached Washington during the controversy 
over the command relationships of the soon-to-be established U.S. 
Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. The Navy's case would have 
been weakened considerably in that issue if it was not prepared to assume 
responsibilities to support subordinate commands. Accordingly, Admiral 
Anderson, the CNO, replied to Admiral Sides: "Appreciate your views, 
but as you know there are command implications in this proposed new 
organization which Navy cannot overlook. Consensus in OPNAV is that 
we should provide required logistic support."'''^ Admiral Anderson 
elaborated on his thinking in a letter to Admiral Felt on 9 February 1962. 
He agreed with Admiral Felt's concern "over the Army's efforts to make 
inroads on our control of the Pacific Command. With the increased 
attention being given to limited war matters, they can generate many 
plausible reasons why CINCPAC should be an Army officer. We cannot 
afford to add weight to their arguments by needlessly increasing the size 
of their role in the Military Assistance Program." He added that he 
thought support of the MAAG was a proper role for the Navy. Hence, 
when MACV was activated, the Navy should be ready to support it, 
"despite the price we must pay in personnel and Navy dollars."^' 

Anticipating a JCS decision to proceed with the establishment of a 
support activity, Admiral Anderson directed Admiral Sides to submit a 
proposal for the headquarters organization and staffing. Ironically, 
Captain Friedman, who had earlier recommended against the establish- 
ment of a naval support activity, was selected as the prospective 
commanding officer. He was ordered to head a survey team which was 
dispatched to Saigon to carry out the study directed by the CNO. 
Friedman's study was completed by the end of February 1962. The team 
used as a model the Naval Support Activity, Taipei, which supported the 
unified Taiwan Defense Command and the Military Assistance Advisory 
Group, Republic of China. The commands supported by the Navy in 
Taiwan were similar to the MAAG and MACV in South Vietnam. In line 

""^Msg, CPFLT 120223Z Dec 1961; see also Friedman, Interview. 

■^"Msg, CNO 131633Z Dec 1961. 

^'Ltr, Anderson to Felt, of 9 Feb 1962. See also Friedman, Interview; memo, OP-40 to Callahan, 
ser 0063P401 of 12 Jan 1962; ACNO, memo for record, ser 0011-62 of 27 Jan; memo, OP-40 to 
CNO, ser BM14-62 of 12 Feb; CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, p. 330; MACV, Command 
History, 1964, p. 135. 

254 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

with general CNO policy statements, the team recommended that the 
proposed activity be limited to supporting units in the immediate Saigon 
area. Admiral Anderson and other leaders were greatly concerned that 
support for the rapidly expanding forces in Vietnam might be interrupted. 
So, to ensure a smooth transition, the team recommended that the 
personnel in the MAAG, performing functions which would be taken 
over by the support activity, should be transferred to the activity. The 
Navy's presence would increase when naval personnel replaced many of 
the Army people at the end of their tours with the MAAG. Within several 
years, the support activity would be staffed primarily by naval personnel. 
With regard to command relationships, the team suggested that the 
activity be placed under Commander Naval Forces, Philippines. That 
command had a similar relationship with the Naval Support Activity, 
Taipei, and was in relative proximity to South Vietnam. Operational 
control of the naval support facility would be delegated to Commander 
U.S. Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. 

After accepting the team's recommendations, Admiral Sides set 1 July 
1962 as the commissioning date for the support activity. To minimize the 
disruption of a transfer of functions from the MAAG to the new 
command, CINCPACFLT dispatched Captain Friedman and a small 
advanced staff to Saigon in April." Captain Friedman worked out 
agreements to establish each military service's responsibilities within the 
activity. The Navy agreed to provide common administrative and logistic 
support, including supply and fiscal, public works, medical and dental, 
commissary and exchange, special services, and housekeeping functions to 
MAAG and MACV, and also to Army and Air Force components in the 
Saigon area. The Army provided a small contingent of military police 
units for the Saigon area and a small group of supply specialists. Aircraft 
would be attached to the support function when needed, until several 
transports were permanently assigned in subsequent months. The Air 
Force assigned personnel to handle postal service, supply problems, and 
airlift traffic coordination.^' 

■"Friedman, Interview; memo, OP-40 to CNO, ser BM 14-62 of 12 Feb 1962; HSAS, Draft 

"'Msgs, CNO 221613Z May 1962; CPFLT 131951Z Dec; memo, OP-405C to CNO, ser BM80-64 
of 1 Dec 1964. 

The Naval Advisory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 255 

Headquarters Support Activity, Saigon 

As planned, the Headquarters Support Activity, Saigon (HSAS) was 
established on 1 July 1962. The MA AG provided the nucleus of 
personnel for HSAS, but because MACV was a larger organization, HSAS 
required more than twice as many men as had been involved in the 
MAAG's support effort. By the end of December, HSAS was staffed by 
445 men, 251 from the Navy, 188 from the Army, and 6 from the Air 
Force. ' 

The activity began operations with an $ 1 1 million budget from a small 
building adjacent to the MAAG headquarters on Tran Hung Dao Street. 
Early in 1963 the HSAS headquarters was moved to the Cofat factory 
building, the site of an old French cigarette firm. As more and more of the 
naval personnel programmed for the support activity arrived, they moved 
into former MAAG facilities, which were scattered throughout the city.^' 
This decentralization was, for the most part, beneficial. HSAS offices and 
compounds melted into the metropolis, so that the Vietnamese, sensitive 
about their sovereignty, were not confronted with a monolithic headquar- 
ters. Furthermore, the decentralized offices offered less attractive targets 
for Viet Cong terrorists and, because HSAS was not restricted to a single 
location, expansion was much easier. Any available building could be 
obtained rather than having to construct a new one at a centralized 
compound. The most pressing problem facing Captain Friedman after the 
commissioning was to find warehouse space in Saigon to store common 
supplies for U.S. forces. But within a short time, the Real Estate Division 
located a compound, which soon was renovated and expanded to receive 
the stocks. ^"^ 

Other HSAS responsibilities, such as messing and billeting, were 
handled on a more routine basis. The activity assumed control from the 
MAAG of nine bachelor officers quarters (BOQs) and seven bachelor 
enlisted men's quarters (BEQs), with the capacity to house about 2,000 
men. In 1962 and succeeding years, eight additional BOQs and five BEQs 

'^Msg, MACV 290543Z Dec 1962. 

"CINCPAC, Command History, 1962, pp. 159-60; MACV, Summary of Highlights, of 20 Mar 
1963, pp. 74-75; Itr, CNO to SECNAV, ser 00155P10 of 20 Apr 1962. Edward J. Marolda, "Saigon" 
in United States Nat'y and Marine Corps Bases, Overseas, Paolo E. Coletta, ed. ( Westport, CT: Greenwood 
Press, 1985), pp. 287-91. 

"''Ltr, Friedman to Kuntze, of 23 Dec 1965; HSAS, Draft History. 


United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 


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The Naval Advisor^' and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 


were acquired to house 1,700 more men. The Billeting Division 
administered three other quarters, with a capacity of about 500, for 
personnel passing through Saigon for duty elsewhere. The division also 
managed a number of individual villas for senior officers and their families 
and for visiting dignitaries. American servicemen in Saigon generally 
received quarters with air conditioning, maid service, and potable hot and 
cold running water. Most of the hotels and apartment buildings leased as 
billets also had messing facilities. Under the Army, these messes were 
independent. HSAS placed them under centralized control for more 
efficient management and accounting and converted them to the Navy's 
standard mess system. 

A large Public Works Department, similar to those at any naval shore 
establishment, was responsible for maintenance, cleaning, fire protection, 
and security of U.S. quarters. In addition, the department furnished 
utilities to HSAS buildings and operated a bus and taxi service for the 
scattered elements of the command. 

Along with billets and messes, the activity took over the limited 
recreation facilities of the MAAG and immediately began an expansion of 
the program to entertain Americans. Most of the effort was in the Saigon 
area but HSAS also organized USO shows for U.S. units throughout 
Vietnam. With profits from the naval exchange, a bowling alley, craft 
shop, swimming pool, and a complete athletic complex were created for 
American servicemen to use during their free time. HSAS also distributed 
moving picture films. But the most popular services offered by HSAS 
were the rest and recuperation (R and R) flights inaugurated in February 
1963- About 1,000 men each month were flown by Air Force planes to 
Bangkok and Hong Kong. This program continued throughout the war. 
In addition, HSAS ran a library in Saigon and branches in outlying areas 
that were heavily used. To provide the U.S. community in Saigon with 
news and music, HSAS established the Armed Forces Radio Service. The 
station first broadcast on 15 August 1962. 

In support of U.S. forces, the activity employed Vietnamese civilians, 
who numbered 1,700 by February 1963. HSAS established a miniature 
civil service system based on local wage rates and customary fringe 
benefits. One of the most difficult initial problems was the inordinately 
long security clearance procedures required to hire Vietnamese for 
sensitive positions. The delays, which ran as long as nine months, soon 
were reduced to a few days or a few weeks by the use of the HSAS 

258 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

military police to conduct the investigations. The majority of the 
Vietnamese worked in the extensive U.S. mess system in Saigon, which 
became the largest single employer in the city.^' 

HSAS also provided medical and dental care to all American service- 
men and their dependents in Saigon. To accomplish this task, HSAS 
controlled only a seventeen-bed dispensary, taken over from the MAAG. 
The Air Force operated a thirty-six-bed tactical hospital at Tan Son Nhut 
airport. In the fall of 1962, Captain Friedman, working through General 
Harkins and Admiral Felt, sought to acquire a suitable facility in Saigon to 
accommodate a 100 to 200-bed hospital. However, the Navy's cumber- 
some leasing procedures delayed the hospital effort and others as well, as 
Admiral Sides related to Admiral Anderson: 

The Navy has accepted the job to be done in Saigon, yet is hampering 
itself in many instances by inflexible administrative decisions and the 
absence of an adequately funded financial plan and related implement- 
ing procedures. HSAS cannot carry out its mission in the unique 
environment now existing in SVN without prompt and adequate 
support. '' 

While this issue was being resolved, Captain Friedman recommended that 
the Fitzgibbons BEQ, with a seventy-two-bed capacity, be converted into a 
hospital, on an interim basis. He proposed construction of a new hospital 
for the long term. Admiral Felt approved the use of the Fitzgibbons 
facility and the establishment of an outpatient clinic in the Metropole 
Hotel. But CINCPAC deferred a decision on the erection of a new 
hospital because at that time planning for a phaseout of U.S. forces was 
underway. Instead, he approved measures to make the Fitzgibbons a semi- 
permanent medical facility. On 1 October 1963, the building on Tran 
Hung Dao Street was commissioned as the Saigon Station Hospital. It 
then was the only naval facility equipped to receive battle casualties 
directly from the field. 

In addition to caring for U.S. casualties, HSAS medical and dental 
facilities contributed to the high priority civic action effort. Whenever 

"'HSAS, Draft History. 

'"Msg, CPFLT 131951Z Dec 1962. 

"Msgs, CNO 112040ZJul 1962; CP 032356Z Aug; MACV 160019Z Sep; HSAS 061425Z Oct; 
CP 150231Z; CNO 212149Z Dec; CP 290316Z; CINCPAC, Command Histor>', 1962, pp. 8"' -88; 
1963, pp. 220-21; memo, Head Medical Department to CO HSAS, of 17 Nov 1965; CINCPACFLT, 
Annual Report, FY1962, p. 84; 1 Jul-30 Sep 1963, p. 10; Friedman, Interview. 

The Naval Advisor)' and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 259 

possible, hospital personnel tendered services to the Vietnamese people. 
Naval doctors and dentists volunteered countless hours of their own time 
to care for the sick and injured. One naval dentist commuted all the way to 
Phu Quoc Island in the Gulf of Siam on weekends to treat people in that 
isolated area. In another program, Vietnamese nurses, doctors, and 
corpsmen from the Cho Ray Hospital received training at the Saigon 
Station Hospital. ^^ 

The chaplains were equally active in civic action projects. A Protestant 
Chapel Fund was begun in October 1962 soon after the arrival of 
Lieutenant Commander Harry R. Miller (CHC), the first chaplain of 
HSAS. The fund supported a number of worthy projects in Vietnam, 
including the Pleiku Leprosarium, the Hue Vietnamese Church, and a 
summer institute for the Wycliffe Bible Translators. Portable organs, tape 
recorders, and film projectors were purchased for Vietnamese churches. 
Chaplain Calvin J. Croston (CHC), who relieved Chaplain Miller in 
August 1964, took a personal interest in Project Handclasp which brought 
to Vietnam in the Navy's ships donated food, clothing, toys, medical 
supplies, and other items collected in the United States. Chaplain Croston 
distributed Handclasp materials to orphanages and refugee villages in 
every part of Vietnam."' 

Up-Country Support 

By the end of 1962, HSAS was effectively supporting U.S. forces 
stationed in the Saigon area with a myriad of services ranging from graves 
registration and dependent schooling to legal counseling and chaplain 
services. The Navy, however, hoped to avoid providing full support for 
the outposts of American troops scattered throughout Vietnam. During 
planning for HSAS in 1962, Admiral Sides added the adjective, "head- 
quarters," to the name of the activity to reinforce that idea. He 
recommended that the MAAG continue the practice of assigning support 
personnel from other services to the field detachments. However, even 

"*Ltrs, Head Medical Department to CO HSAS, of 17 Nov 1965; COMPHIBTRACOM, PACFLT 
to CNO, ser 0031-66 of 11 Jul 1966; CNO, OPNAV Instruction 5450.100A, of 5 Nov 1962. 

■'Withers M. Moore, Navy Chaplains m Vietnam. 1934-1964 (Washington: Office of the Chief of 
Chaplains, Bureau of Naval Personnel, 1968), pp. 109, 112, 116; Withers M. Moore, Herbert L. 
Bergsma, and Timothy J. Demy, Chaplains uith U.S. Naval Units in Vietnam. 1954-1975: Selected 
Experiences at Sea and Ashore (Washington: Office of Chief of Chaplains, 1985), pp. 17-34. 

260 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

the initial Office of the Chief of Naval Operations instruction detailing the 
mission of the HSAS implied some responsibility for U.S. forces outside of 
Saigon. For example, HSAS was charged with delivering mail to all 
personnel in South Vietnam. And HSAS was directed to "coordinate or 
arrange support of MA AG Vietnam field detachments. "**° In November 
1962, an updated instruction was issued which assigned responsibility for 
the purchase and shipment of commissary and exchange supplies and food 
intended for units in the field. Other areas of support for up-country units 
included maintenance of vehicles, water purification, real estate acquisi- 
tion, and engineering support.*' 

The task of transporting supplies, mostly the commissary and exchange 
items, to the up-country outposts fell to the Operations Department. 
Commander Robert E. Begley, who headed the department during 1963, 

Supplying the up country messes was always a problem due to poor 
coordination and lack of transportation and the always present pilfering 
of items especially of the PX type. Trying to convince the Army that 
people in the field did not need ice cream. ..was quite a chore. *^ 

At the port of Saigon the Operations Department served as the local 
MSTS representative and arranged for the unloading there of all U.S. 
supplies. Since Viet Cong ambushes threatened road and rail transporta- 
tion, air and sea transport generally was relied on to move the cargo to 
field units. 

The U.S. Air Force 2nd Air Division in Saigon operated a centralized 
airlift system to move cargo to American units all over Vietnam. But air 
transportation was expensive and subject to weather and operational 
delays, so the bulk of the cargo for up-country bases moved by water. 
HSAS depended on MSTS ships to transport the material along the coast 
to Danang, Nha Trang, and Qui Nhon, where major concentrations of 
American troops were located. Additionally, a commercial shipper was 
employed to transport refrigerated supplies.*' 

In January 1963, General Harkins recommended that HSAS take over 
responsibility for port services throughout Vietnam, which then was being 

""CNO, OPNAV Instruction 5450.100, of 22 Jun 1962. See also Friedman, Interview. 

"CNO, OPNAV Instruction 5450. lOOA, of 5 Nov 1962; Friedman, Interview. 

'^Ltr, Begley to Kunt2e, of 27 Dec 1965. 

"HSAS, Draft History'; Friedman, Interview; Itr, CINCPAC toJCS, ser 001931 of 23 Dec 1964. 

The Nafal Advisory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 261 

handled separately by each service. Admiral Sides strongly opposed 
General Harkins's recommendation, observing that HSAS did not have 
the resources to take on the expanded task. CINCPACFLT saw this as the 
first step in a move to make HSAS a country-wide logistic organization. 
He pointed out that HSAS had assumed additional support responsibilities 
outside of Saigon, not because it had the resources to do so, but "more 
from energetic attitude of personnel assigned." He proposed that the 
Army deploy its own logistic organization to take over country-wide 
logistic support responsibilities. Admiral Felt, however, overruled him 
and directed MACV to work out interservice support agreements to 
centralize the task in HSAS.*'' 

None of the armed services wanted to divert manpower for the new 
responsibility. An initial agreement failed when all the services temporari- 
ly had to reduce personnel in South Vietnam at the end of 1963. As an 
interim measure, HSAS hired civilians in some of the ports. Finally, in 
June 1964, after nineteen months of tedious negotiation, an interservice 
agreement was signed that stationed HSAS advisory personnel in the ports 
of Danang, Nha Trang, and Qui Nhon. Their function was to receive and 
forward cargo and ensure that it was not lost before transshipment. The 
service was extended to U.S. Embassy cargo and MAP material, as well as 
to military supplies.*' 

By the end of 1962, HSAS was supplying thirty exchange stores 
scattered throughout Vietnam. Another store was supported in Cambodia. 
These facilities, contrary to the Navy's practice, were run by the unit they 
supported. HSAS acted only as the supplier. In the fall of 1963, 
discussions were held to determine the merits of continuing this system or 
setting up country-wide exchanges. Consideration also was given to 
allowing the Army and Air Force exchange service to operate the entire 
system, since those services provided most of the customers. The decision 
was made to continue with the current arrangement. Similarly, HSAS 
provided for the special needs of the American diplomatic communities in 
Phnom Penh and Bangkok. Despite problems, HSAS accomplished its 
mission of "Service to the Services" by shouldering the major logistic 
burden for Americans in Vietnam. Captain Friedman aptly summed up the 
early years of HSAS when he observed that the command 

^''Msgs, MACV 300922Z Jan 1963; CP 270430Z Feb; 290036Z Mar; CPFLT 200327Z Nov. 
^'MACV, Command History, 1964, p. 113; CINCPAC, Command History, 1963, pp. 219-20; 
memo, OP-40 to CNO, ser BM82-64 of 8 Dec 1964. 

262 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

was established to meet rather unique responsibilities for a Navy 
activity. Its early development was, therefore, unorthodox in many 
respects. Its major problem was to discharge its responsibilities within 
the umbrella of peace time regulations but in a war time environment 
and with a war time sense of urgency.*"^ 

The period from 1961 to 1963 witnessed a dramatic increase in the size 
of the Vietnamese Navy and the U.S. naval establishment that helped train 
and support it. American naval advisors and their Vietnamese counter- 
parts improved the command structure with the creation of naval zone 
commands, coastal surveillance centers, and the naval staff departments 
for communications and intelligence. Setting up the Civil Guard boat 
companies freed the River Force from duties that were a drain on its 
resources and flexibility. The U.S. -Vietnamese team also strengthened the 
fighting potential of the Sea Force, River Force, and Coastal Force with 
the integration into the naval arm of a large number of new ships, river- 
combat craft, and junks. New repair facilities were built and the 
performance of existing yards was improved; the supply system was 
reorganized; and new training schools were established for the Coastal 
Force and the River Force. 

Although defying permanent resolution, many long-standing problems 
in the Vietnamese Navy were alleviated by Vietnamese naval leaders and 
their American advisors. The combat forces enlisted an adequate number 
of personnel to accomplish their missions, despite continued difficulty 
with recruitment and desertion. Poor leadership adversely affected the 
motivation of naval personnel at all levels and this, in turn, diminished the 
operational performance and readiness of individual units. Nonetheless, 
corrective measures showed promise of improving the Vietnamese Navy's 
ability to combat the Communist enemy. 

During this same time, the U.S. Navy's Headquarters Support Activity, 
Saigon, provided logistic support to a major portion of the American 
military contingent in South Vietnam. Although hard-pressed to keep pace 
with the rapid increase in numbers, the naval activity furnished U.S. 
personnel in the Saigon area, and to a lesser extent up-country, with 

*'*Ltr, Friedman to Kuntze, of 23 Dec 1965. 

The Naval Advisory and Logistic Support Effort in Vietnam 263 

adequate housing, messing, medical, chaplain, fiscal, transportation, port 
service, and morale support. These logistic requirements would continue 
to demand the Navy's attention as the struggle in Vietnam grew in 


Perceptions of the Conflict in 

South Vietnam 

and the Diem Coup 

As the U.S. advisory and military support program built up the material, 
personnel, and organizational strength of the Vietnamese armed forces 
from 1961 to 1963, many American leaders expressed guarded confi- 
dence in the allied ability to counter the Communist insurgency. Although 
developments in the military sphere initially gave reason for hope, the 
increasing weakness of the South Vietnamese political structure under- 
mined this optimism and led to a climactic turning point in the war. 

At the third Secretary of Defense conference, on 19 February 1962, 
both General Harkins and Ambassador Nolting agreed that there was 
improvement in South Vietnamese internal security. The number of Viet 
Cong initiated incidents had declined steadily since the end of 1961, and 
government forces were expanding their operations against the enemy. 
The U.S. civilian officials, and Admiral Felt, summarized their estimation 
of the situation thus: "South Vietnam had earlier been described as a 
country going down a steep slope to disaster. We can't say that the 
direction has been reversed — but for the moment the slope has leveled 
out a bit."' CINCPAC soon afterward, however, cautioned that while 
Viet Cong activity had diminished, the enemy still possessed the ability to 
strike at will and in force in his long-term battle of attrition. The CNO 
reiterated the perception that the campaign to root out and destroy the 
insurgency would be a slow, extended process, requiring years of effort." 

'SECDEF, "Record of Third Secretary of Defense Conference, 19 Feb 1962, " pp. 1-10, 1-5. 
^Msg, CP 23081 5Z Feb 1962; memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM00250-62 of 26 Feb; Itr, CNO to 
Flag and General Officers, of 7 Mar. 


Perceptions of the Conflict in So. Vietnam and the Diem Coup 265 

By mid-March 1962, U.S. civilian officials and military leaders con- 
cerned with South Vietnam began to exude a "cautious optimism." U.S. 
military support forces were in-country and many provisions of the plan of 
action to buttress the South Vietnamese counterinsurgency program were 
being implemented. At the fourth Secretary of Defense meeting at 
CINCPAC headquarters, on 21 March, General Harkins expressed 
gratification over the industry of U.S. military personnel and the growing 
enthusiasm and amenability to advice of the South Vietnamese armed 
forces. Citing the general's reports to him of encouraging Viet Cong-to- 
ARVN loss ratios, during the preceding weeks, Admiral Felt stated that 
the "pendulum seems to be swinging our way."^ Secretary of Defense 
McNamara also was encouraged by the apparent change in the situation. 
By the end of the conference he was questioning Ambassador Nolting 
"whether the fact that we are beginning to win the war was realized by the 
people."^ As a result of the confident reports given at this meeting, the 
Secretary of Defense cancelled the monthly gatherings and, soon after, the 
semi-weekly "Beef-up" reports on the status of the U.S. aid program.' 
McNamara's perception of gradual improvement in the counterinsurgen- 
cy struggle was reaffirmed during his whirlwind tour of Southeast Asia 
from 9 to 1 1 May. After inspecting various U.S. military installations and 
Vietnamese fortified hamlets, and talking with officials of both govern- 
ments, he praised General Harkins for his leadership of the burgeoning 
American command.*' 

Naval officers also revealed increasing satisfaction with the course of 
events. In late July Admiral Anderson conducted a three-day visit to the 
Southeast Asian trouble spot, primarily in response to Secretary of 
Defense McNamara's request that members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff 
personally evaluate the situation there. The CNO also was aware of 
Captain Drachnik's complaint that since the preceding December only 
one senior naval officer had visited South Vietnam. The captain was 
concerned that "there have been almost no Navy people who have 
[shown] an interest in what we are doing. It does get a little lonely here."^ 

^SECDEF, "Record, Fourth Secretary of Defense Conference, 21 March 1962," pp. 1-5, 1-1. 

^Ihid., pp. N-2, 1-5. 

''Ihid.; memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM00425-62 of 2 Apr 1962; Itr, CNO to Flag and General 
Officers, of 13 Apr; CINCPAC, Command History, 1962, pp. 49-50. 

''U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 12, pp. 479-80. 

'Ltr, Drachnik to Anderson, of 22 May 1962 end. in Itr, Anderson to Drachnik, of 1 1 Jun. Admiral 
Hooper, COMPHIBFOR, Seventh Fleet, at the time, has observed that the Navy generally regarded 

266 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

From 27 to 29 July, Admiral Anderson toured U.S. and South 
Vietnamese military installations in Saigon, Soc Trang, Tuy Hoa, and Nha 
Trang and held discussions with military and civilian leaders. The CNO 
was impressed that President Diem "appeared knowledgeable and 
seemed to be coming around to ideas of decentralizing."* The admiral 
also observed that General Harkins, Captain Drachnik, and the other U.S. 
military personnel in South Vietnam were doing an outstanding job. 
Admiral Anderson recorded that "what we saw is a sound basis for 
cautious optimism," while pointing out that "of course, we have not yet 
received the full impact of the communist reaction."'' At the same time in 
Washington, Captain Donald N. Clay, who headed the Special Operations 
Section in the Office of the Chief of Naval Operations, informed high- 
level conferees at a Defense Department staff meeting that the Commu- 
nists had been stopped in South Vietnam, "for here our efforts to train 
and equip the small Vietnamese navy have paid off."'° Similarly, 
Commander Everett A. Parke, who served as Naval Attache, Saigon, from 
August I960 to August 1962, observed on his return to Washington that 
he felt "somewhat cautiously optimistic at this point."" However, he 
tempered his evaluation: 

I think there is some hope, but we must not expect to see a sudden 
dramatic improvement. We are up against people who are capable of 
outsitting us and outwaiting us, and unless we make our minds up to try 
and get this thing put into long-term perspective, I think we will be 
deluding ourselves.'' 

Nonetheless, key indicators continued to reflect a favorable trend. A 
MACV analysis of the military situation in March 1963 showed that Viet 
Cong incidents were below the 1962 average, and the rate of company 
and battalion-size Viet Cong attacks also had fallen. Further, the rate of 

the conflict there as a land effort. See Hooper, Interview, p. 353. See also memos, OP-60 to Persons/ 
Needham, ser 0608P60 of 14 May 1962; OSD, of 26 Jul. 

^Anderson Diary of 6 Aug 1962. See also CNO, Itinerary of Pacific Tour, Anderson Diary. 

''OP-09, memo, ser OOi33P09 of 10 Aug 1962. See also Anderson Diary, of 6 Aug. 

'"OSD, memo, of 26 Jul 1962, p. 4-1. 

"Everett A. Parke, "Report From Vietnam," ONI Reiieu- (Oct 1962), p. 441. 

''^Ihid. p. 441. See also Itr, Anderson to Nolting, of 28 Dec 1962; CINCPAC, Command History, 
1962, pp. 147-49; U.S.-V.N. Relaliom, bk. 12, pp. 487-89, 504-05. 

Perceptions of the Conflict in So. Vietnam and the Diem Coup 267 

weekly losses of government weapons to the Communists dropped 
markedly from 1961 and 1962 levels." 

As a result of the general optimism over Vietnam, Secretary McNamara 
began to think about scaling down U.S. forces once the Viet Cong threat 
was further contained. Responding to a Secretary of Defense query, 
General Harkins estimated that this might be accomplished by the end of 
1965- His estimates were accepted for planning purposes, even though 
the Joint Chiefs commented that it was impossible to make such a forecast 
with any accuracy. 

Serious planning for an initial 1 ,000-man reduction began in the spring 
of 1963 and was scheduled for completion by the end of the year. Most of 
the personnel to be withdrawn were in support units. Only about 200 
were attached to MAAG and MACV and a handful of these were naval 
advisors. However, Captain Drachnik was unhappy about these reduc- 
tions, which he considered unjustified by the situation in Vietnam and 
motivated solely to show the American people that progress was being 
made in the conflict. Even though the proposed reduction would amount 
to only about 10 percent of the naval advisors, in a small unit such as the 
Navy Section there were few billets which could be spared. Since the 
Bureau of Naval Personnel had not yet filled some billets in the Navy 
Section, Drachnik recommended that those be the positions cut. He was 
told that the cuts had to come from occupied billets. A total of 1,000 men 
did leave Vietnam by the end of 1963, but this withdrawal process was 
stillborn and a general buildup immediately followed. '"* 

Internal Turmoil 

Events in South Vietnam soon began to erode the confidence of some 
U.S. officials in Diem's government and armed forces. In the battle of Ap 
Bac, on 2 January 1963, South Viemamese regular and paramilitary forces 

"MACV, Summary of Highlights, of 20 Mar 1963; JCS Paper 2315/223; msgs, CP 260440Z May 
1963; COMUSMACV 060556Z Jul; CP 212210Z; U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 3, pt. 1VB.4, pp. 4, 15, 

"C.^.-KiV. Relaiwns, bk. 3, pt. IVB.4, pp. 15, 17; Drachnik, Interview with Fitzgerald; CINCPAC, 
Command History, 1963, pp. 204, 216-19; msgs, CP 212210Z Jul 1963; COMUSMACV 070655Z 

268 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

performed unevenly and suffered heavy casualties. CINCPAC, however, 
described the action as atypical of most South Vietnamese operations. 
Admiral Felt also criticized the U.S. press for exaggerating the negative 
aspects of the fight. Admiral Anderson reiterated that evaluation and 
added that the "Ap Bach \_sic.'\ operation is considered a success for the 
South Vietnamese forces." The CNO also observed that the "overall U.S. 
effort in Vietnam vis-a-vis the Communist[s] continues to show substantial 
and gratifying progress and the Vietnamese armed forces, after a year of 
reorganizing and training by the U.S., are only now beginning to move 
into high gear."" In June Admiral Anderson expressed an even greater 
confidence. He assured Captain Quyen that "all available evidence 
indicates that the high tide of the Viet Cong insurgency may have been 
reached and is now ebbing." The CNO added that "the dark days of 1961 
and 1962 have given way to a more hopeful present and the bright 
promise of ultimate victory now looms on the horizon.""" 

On the other hand, Commander Seventh Fleet's liaison officer with the 
MACV headquarters in Saigon reported a difference of opinion among in- 
country personnel over the success of the war effort. He found staff 
officers optimistic, but "informal and unofficial comments from personnel 
working with the RVN forces point more toward 'escalating stale- 

Deficiencies in the South Vietnamese armed forces, made evident 
during the battle of Ap Bac, were mirrored in the country's political 
fabric. Beginning in May, South Vietnamese Buddhists, including many 
monks, began active street demonstrations to protest perceived and real 
government abuses. The regime's reaction was swift and harsh. The crisis 
became increasingly widespread and violent in the summer. The self- 
immolation of Buddhist monks in the streets of Saigon revealed the 
fervency of the religious opposition to Diem's government. Other anti- 
Diem factions used the turmoil to advance their causes. Rumor of planned 
attempts to overthrow the South Vietnamese leader began to circulate 

"Ltr, CNO to Flag and General Officers, of 24 Jan 1963. See also I'.S.-VN. Relaiwtis, bk. 3, pt. 
IVB.5, pp. 1-2; CINCPAC, Command Histor>', 1963, p. 203; msg, CP 100910Z Jan 1963. 

"'Ltr, Anderson to Quyen, of 28 Jun 1963. 

"Msg, COM7FLT 070938Z May 1963. 

'"Memo, OP-61 to SECNAV, ser 00680P61 of 26 Jul 1963; U.S.-V.N. Relaliom, bk. 3, pt. IVB.5, 
pp. 4-12. 

Perceptions of the Conflict in So. Vietnam and the Diem Coup 269 

Nonetheless, some U.S. officials considered the situation manageable. 
At the end of July Rear Admiral Henry L. Miller, Assistant Chief of Staff 
for Plans on the CINCPAC staff, reported: 

In regard to the COMUSMACV business, it is all going exceptionally 
well. As a matter of fact, we have a comprehensive plan for South 
Vietnam which wraps up the whole counterinsurgency effort by 13 
December 1965. However, if we can settle the Buddhist problem and 
get the "coup" scares settled down, and continue the Phase II Campaign 
Plan wherein the ARVN troops in all four areas push as hard as they 
have since I July of this year, Harkins believes that it can be over by 1 
January 1964." 

Other U.S. leaders were less optimistic at this point, as it was becoming 
increasingly clear that Diem's hold on the government, and consequently 
the war effort, was loosening. 

The Kennedy administration, not wanting to instigate action against 
Diem by moving away from him, but uncertain of his longevity as head of 
the government, adopted a "wait and see" policy. Public demonstration of 
close association between the U.S. and South Vietnamese governments 
was avoided. In this regard, routine ship visits took on added significance. 
Providence (CLG-6), flagship of the Seventh Fleet, was scheduled to visit 
Saigon for the traditional South Vietnamese Independence Day celebra- 
tion on 26 October. Admiral Felt, citing the gravity of the situation in 
Saigon, postponed the annual port call. 

The possibility of having to protect or even evacuate Americans from 
South Vietnam, in the event of a coup, was now deemed real. Planning for 
such an eventuality was undertaken. By late August the internal situation 
had grown so serious that U.S. leaders took steps to ensure the safety of 
non-combatant Americans. Late on 25 August CINCPAC directed the 
Pacific Fleet commander to station naval forces off the South Vietnamese 
coast prepared to evacuate 4,600 U.S. nationals. Captain John Boyum's 
Amphibious Ready Group sortied from Subic Bay the next day and 
proceeded to a point within one day's sailing time from the mouth of the 
Saigon River. Princeton, Noble (APA-218), and Thomaston carried the 
Marine Special Landing Force. The group was escorted by DeHaven (DD- 

"Ltr, Miller to Stroh, of 30 Jul 1963. The view that the military struggle was still favorable to the 
South Vietnamese was shared by other U.S. military leaders. See msgs, JCS 1 12003Z Sep 1963; CP 

270 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

727) and Lyman K. Swenson (DD-729). Also on the 26th, Rear Admiral 
Daniel F. Smith was ordered to sail his Attack Carrier Task Group 77.5 to 
within 200 miles of Boyum's force in order to provide air cover for the 
possible evacuation. Hancock, in company with three destroyers, quickly 
made for the designated operating area. 

These preparatory steps shortened transit time when, on 28 August, the 
JCS directed the evacuation force to concentrate off Vung Tau. At the 
same time, CINCPACFLT readied two Marine battalion landing teams on 
Okinawa and Marine transport aircraft in Japan for movement to Saigon. 
By 30 August, with a naval task force close offshore and transport aircraft 
ready on Okinawa, Admiral Felt possessed the resources to land three 
Marine BLTs almost simultaneously, covered by naval aviation. And that 
same day a fourth Marine battalion was embarked in attack transport 
Lenawee, which promptly put to sea bound for the Southeast Asian coast. 

To avoid precipitating a panic in the South Vietnamese capital, the 
movement of U.S. naval forces in the South China Sea was publicly 
described as a routine training exercise. This discretion paid off when the 
internal crisis temporarily eased. Accordingly, on 3 September, Admiral 
Felt returned the transport aircraft to normal activities. The rest of the 
alerted evacuation and protection force remained in readiness for another 
week as the situation in Saigon was assessed by U.S. leaders. Then, on 11 
September CINCPAC returned all naval forces to normal operations, 
although a carrier task group and the Amphibious Ready Group were 
retained in the South China Sea on twenty-four hours notice. ^° 

This deployment proved to be the first of several in the worsening 
South Vietnamese internal crisis. Buddhist protest demonstrations subsid- 
ed during September and October 1963, but the government appeared 
leaderless and disoriented to the Kennedy administration. U.S. leaders 
increasingly feared that the Diem regime was incapable of uniting the 
fractious South Vietnamese body politic and that the Communists would 

'"CNO Flag Plot, WESTPAC Situation Charts, 26 Aug-13 Sep 1963; CINCPAC, Command 
History, 1963, pp. 230-32; COM7FLT, "RVN SITREPS 1 (01 1018Z Sep)-12 (121210Z Sep); Itrs, 
Miller to Moorer, end. in memo, CINCPAC to COM7FLT, ser 00684-63 of 8 Jul 1963; Moorer to 
Anderson, of 26 Jul 1963; memo, OP-61 to SECNAV, ser 00680P61 of 26 Jul; msgs, ALUSNA 
Aug-11 Sep 1963; COM7FLT, Command History, 1963, p. 7; CPFLT, Preparatory Actions RVN 
SITREPS 1 (300032Z Aug)-7 (130244Z Sep); CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY 1963 Supplement, 
ser 15/00838 of 30 Sep; U.S-V.N. Relatwm, bk. 3, pt. IVB.5, pp. 12-36; bk. 12, pp. 526-35, 546-47. 

Perceptions of the Conflict in So. Vietnam and the Diem Coup 27 1 




272 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

exploit internal differences. The Republic of Vietnam and the American 
investment in it of lives, material resources, and prestige were seen in 

Then, late in October 1963, American officials learned of a concerted 
plan to overthrow the Diem government by high-ranking South Vietnam- 
ese military officers. This activity was not discouraged. Precautionary steps 
were again taken to protect Americans caught in the political maelstrom 
that was Saigon in late 1963. On 29 October the JCS directed the Pacific 
Command to repeat the movement to South Vietnam's coastal waters of 
U.S. naval forces. At first light on 31 October, the Oriskany (CVA-34) 
attack carrier task group got underway from Iwakuni, Japan, bound for the 
South China Sea. Although Hancock's task group was closer to Southeast 
Asia in Hong Kong, the departure of this force would have been more 
conspicuous. The Amphibious Ready Group, now composed oi luo Jima 
(LPH-2), Point Defiance, and Noble also headed for its former station off 
Vung Tau. As before, the movement was carried out under the guise of a 
routine training exercise. Ironically, the exercise. Yellow Bird, was 
intended to test Seventh Fleet readiness for Southeast Asian contingencies. 
Two Marine battalion landing teams and 1st Marine Aircraft Wing KC- 
130 transports were placed on alert on Okinawa. As naval forces steamed 
for operating areas off Vung Tau, Saigon exploded in yet another coup 

The Coup 

The military coup foreseen by U.S. government leaders began shortly 
after noon on the first day of November 1963. Although Diem had 
weathered attempts to overthrow his regime in the past, this time he 
lacked a key element to his survival — Vietnamese Navy support. Since 
the first days of Vietnamese independence, when President Diem used the 
navy to defeat several religious sects in the Mekong Delta, that service had 
enjoyed a special relationship with the president. The quick reaction of 
Commander Quyen, the Vietnamese Naval Deputy, had saved Diem 
during the coup attempt of November I960. A little over a year later, on 
26 February 1962, two disgruntled Vietnamese Air Force pilots flying 
AD-6s bombed the Presidential Palace and made strafing runs on the 
shipyard and police headquarters. The navy's ships anchored in the Saigon 

Perceptions of the Conflict in So. Vietnam and the Diem Coup 273 

River went to General Quarters immediately and Huong Giang (HQ-404), 
a recently received LSM, shot down one of the rebel planes. Quyen threw 
a security cordon around the shipyard and the naval headquarters and 
ordered the marines to establish a command post in the shipyard. Diem 
considered moving his offices to the yard, but the limited nature of the 
attack made it unnecessary. Largely as a result of their actions, Quyen, in 
June 1962, was promoted to Captain and Le Nguyen Khang, the 
Commandant of the Marine Corps, became a lieutenant colonel."' 

The overthrow of Diem on 1 November 1963 came as a surprise to 
most leaders of the Vietnamese Navy. However, several officers were 
known to have been involved in planning the coup. One officer visited the 
Naval Deputy on the morning of 1 November, which ironically was 
Quyen's birthday, and offered to drive him to a party in his honor. In 
reality, he was trying to determine Quyen's reaction to the planned revolt. 
When Quyen rejected his inducements to join the conspirators, a struggle 
ensued, and he killed Quyen with three pistol shots to the head. The 
assassination occurred on the highway from Saigon to Thu Due. The 
officer then went to the Vietnamese naval headquarters and arrested 
Quyen's staff. ^^ 

Meanwhile, Lieutenant Commander Dinh Manh Hung, the Sea Force 
commander, got underway on the Saigon River in LST Cam Ranh (HQ- 
500), accompanied by five other ships. He tried to gain the support of 
other naval commands but without success. At this point the Joint General 
Staff, which backed the coup, called in an air strike on the naval 
headquarters and the shipyard. At least four of the ships fired at the A-IH 
aircraft, but when Hung saw the strikes, and by 1800 had received no 
support from other commands, he returned to the dock.'' 

To American military leaders, 1 November was a day of confusion and 
uncertainty. Reports on the success or failure of the attempt, the opposing 
sides, and the condition of President Diem were sketchy and contradicto- 
ry. In this uncertain situation, additional U.S. evacuation forces were 
marshaled. With news of the coup now public, Commander Seventh Fleet 

-'Msgs, ALUSNA Saigon 270510Z Feb 1962; 281031Z. 

^^Bang Cao Thang, Interview, pp. 8-9; Dinh Manh Hung, Interview, pp. 7-8; Ho Van Ky Thoai, 
Interview, pp. 15-22; Nguyen Van Due, Interview, pp. 2-3; Hoang Co Minh, transcript of interview 
with Oscar P. Fitzgerald, Naval Historical Center, in Reston, VA, 8 and 18 Sep 1975; Nguyen Huu 
Chi, transcript of interview with Oscar P. Fitzgerald, Naval Historical Center, in Falls Church, VA, 21 
Aug 1975, pp. 9-12; Drachnik, Interview with Fitzgerald. 

"Msg, ALUSNA Saigon 040958Z Nov 1963; Drachnik, Interview with Moss, pp. 13-15. 


United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

USN- 1099485 

Admiral Ulysses S.G. Sharp. Commander in Chief, U.S. Pacific Fleet, and Vice Admiral 
Thomas H. Moorer. Commander Seventh Fleet, confer at Subic Bay in the Philippines three 
days after the overthroic of South Vietnam 's Diem regime. 

ordered Hancock and her escorts to depart Hong Kong at first light on 2 
November and to proceed at 2 5 -knot speed for a station southeast of the 
Saigon River mouth. 

In the early morning hours of that day, the Amphibious Ready Group 
arrived at its position off the South Vietnamese coast. The force was 
prepared to begin at dawn launching Marines by air into Tan Son Nhut 
Airfield or to land and secure the Vung Tau Peninsula as a base for further 

Perceptions of the Conflict in So. Vietnam and the Diem Coup 21 "b 

operations. The naval command, however, adhered toJCS instructions to 
keep sea forces out of sight of land and to take no actions "which would 
represent visible support either for or against the coup in RVN."'^ 

By 2400 on 2 November Hancock, accompanied by her escorts, 
Buchanan (DDG-14), Souther/and (DDR-743), and Lyman K. Swenson. was 
in range to provide air support for an evacuation. Oriskany was prepared to 
do the same two hours later while steaming southwest with King (DLG- 
10), Hanson (DDR-832), Marshall (DD-676), and Mahan. 

At the same time, the course of events in the South Vietnamese capital 
became clearer. President Diem, his brother Nhu, and the Naval Deputy 
had been assassinated by the conspirators. Further, the new regime, led by 
Generals Minh and Don, had ended significant opposition, reestablished 
order, and begun the task of forming a government. Since these new 
leaders immediately proclaimed a continuation of the anti-Communist 
struggle and a desire to maintain close relations with the United States 
government, concern for the safety of Americans in-country abated 

On 4 November CINCPAC released airlift resources and the Marine 
BLTs on Okinawa to routine tasks. However, the naval forces afloat off 
South Vietnam remained on station to await developments and to conduct 
evacuation rehearsals, especially since the political situation remained 
confused in Hue. On 5 November Admiral Felt ordered his naval 
component commander to shift one of the carrier task groups to the north. 
That same day Oriskany sailed for a position 150 miles east of Hue. Soon 
after arriving on station, however, conditions in the old imperial capital 
stabilized. On 7 November, Oriskany and her escorts were released for 
normal operations by Commander Seventh Fleet, acting on JCS instruc- 
tion. The following day, the Joint Chiefs authorized the return to routine 
pursuits of the two task groups still positioned off Vung Tau.^^ 

The measured progress in the development of the Vietnamese armed 
services, growing strength of the American combat support forces in- 

"Msg, JCS 011617Z Nov 1963. 

"CINCPAC, Command History, 1963, pp. 232-36; COM7FLT, Command History, 1963, p. 9; 
CNO Flag Plot, "7th Fleet Response to 1 Nov 1963 Coup D'Etat and Overthrow of Diem 
Government;" msgs, JCS, CPFLT, ALUSNA Saigon, CTF76, COM7FLT, CTG77.5, CTG77.7, CP 
29 Oct-9 Nov 1963; U.S.-V.N. Relaliom, bk. 3, pp. 37-68; bk. 12, pp. 574, 578-605; Itr, CO Iwojtma 
to CNO, ser 015 of 27 Jan 1964; Tran Van Don, Our Endless War: Inside Vteinam (San Rafael, CA: 
Presidio Press, 1978), pp. 87-115. 

276 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

country, and favorable statistical analyses of the war in the years from 
1961 to 1963 led Secretary of Defense McNamara, General Harkins, 
Admirals Anderson and Felt, and other leaders to suggest that success in 
the struggle was within reach. In fact, limited steps were taken to 
withdraw U.S. personnel from Vietnam. This optimism, however, was 
premature. The battle at Ap Bac highlighted continued weakness in the 
South Vietnamese military. Of greater import, the Diem government 
increasingly was unable to cope with either the militant Buddhist and 
other opposition groups or the coup plotters in the armed forces. By the 
fall of 1963, American leaders had come to accept this reality, as 
demonstrated by the deployment of Seventh Fleet units to South 
Vietnamese waters in readiness to evacuate non-combatants from the 
country. Ngo Dinh Diem's assassination on 1 November 1963 marked 
the close of an era in which it was believed possible for the South 
Vietnamese, with only limited U.S. assistance, to overcome the Commu- 
nist threat. Thereafter, the use of major units of the fleet and the other 
U.S. Armed Forces to reverse the pattern of events became a prime 


Readiness of the Fleet for 
Limited War, 1961-1964 

Even while fighting the Communist insurgency in South Vietnam, the 
Kennedy administration and the Navy accelerated efforts begun in the 
late 1950s to rebuild the conventional warfare strength of the U.S. Fleet, 
especially its capability to project power ashore. Although high-priority 
items in the defense budgets of 1961-1964 limited funding for a number 
of important programs of naval readiness, the Navy's ability to conduct a 
limited, non-nuclear war improved significantly. This was particularly true 
of the Pacific Fleet, which prepared to counter aggressive Communist 
military actions in Southeast Asia. 

The Navy's long-standing concern with limited war challenges was 
endorsed, and indeed championed, by the Kennedy administration for the 
entire U.S. military establishment. During the I960 presidential cam- 
paign, John Kennedy and his national security advisors subscribed to many 
of the concepts advanced by the flexible response advocates and supported 
the revitalization of the U.S. conventional warfare capability. His cam- 
paign program emphasized the need for a marked improvement and 
augmentation of conventional forces and weapons, especially U.S. airlift 
and sealift resources. Kennedy stated that no aspect of defense policy was 
"cause for greater concern" than the weakness in this area and that 
completion of the task was essential in order to "prevent any quick 
Communist takeovers on the ground — enough to let them know that 
they will be in for a long, costly struggle, if they pursue this means of 
attaining their objectives."' 

On assuming office. President Kennedy initiated actions to upgrade this 
part of the defense structure. The new Secretary of Defense, Robert S. 
McNamara, who oversaw this redirection of defense policy, stated that he 

'Kennedy, Strategy of Peace, pp. 183, 186. 


278 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

was assigning "our conventional forces early and high priority in 1961" in 
order to improve their "organization, manning, equipment, training, 
mobility and, most especially, the balance among all elements of the 
forces."" The new Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, elaborated on the 
military support needed to further U.S. policy in the Far East. He 
observed that the "free world's military posture along the Asian rim of the 
[Communist] bloc should be capable of rapid response to a wide spectrum 
of threats" because "Chinese Communist policy is likely to pose such 
threats." He added that to free indigenous forces for the fight against 
insurgency, it was "important not only to have mobile, flexible and 
substantial U.S. forces... but also to have them deployed in forward areas 
of the Western Pacific, in order to present our allies and the Communists 
with tangible evidence of our capacity to respond to aggression."' 

Soon after taking office, the new administration requested additional 
funds, which totalled more than $6 billion by July 1961, for the Fiscal 
Year 1962 Defense Department budget then under review. The Navy's 
share of this increase was more than $2.7 billion. The impact of these steps 
on conventional warfare readiness was reflected in manning levels. The 
Navy's personnel ceiling was raised by 32,000 persons, of whom 90 
percent would man general purpose units. This ceiling was subsequently 
raised again. By mid- 1964 the Navy had reached a strength of 667,600 
personnel, 40,500 more than the June 1961 total. Following a request by 
the President, the Congress authorized an increase in Marine Corps 
personnel from 175,000 to 190,000 and proportionately more men were 
assigned to the operating forces than before. In addition, over $100 
million in additional funds were allocated to research and development in 
the limited warfare field. The naval capacity for sealift of troops and 
equipment was also strengthened by the reactivation of a number of 
transports, the deferred inactivation of others, and the authorization for 
construction of additional amphibious ships. Aircraft carriers, while still 
charged with readiness for general war, were increasingly considered as 
the Navy's chief resource for limited war and projection of power ashore, 
especially since the Polaris ballistic missile-firing submarines entering the 

^Robert S. McNamara, The Essence oj Security: Reflecltons in Office (New York; Harper and Row, 
1968), p. 78. 

'Memo, Rusk to McNamara, "Foreign Policy Considerations Bearing on the U.S. Defense 
Posture," of 4 Feb 1961. 

Readiness of the Fleet for Limited War 279 

fleet freed the carrier force from most strategic retaliation responsibili- 

In 1961, no less than three new attack carriers entered the U.S. Fleet, 
including Kitty Hawk (CVA-63), Constellation (CVA-64), and Enterprise 
(CVAN-65). The latter vessel was the world's first nuclear-powered 
carrier and the largest warship then afloat. Major advances also were made 
adapting naval aircraft to non-nuclear attack roles. The F-4 Phantom II 
fighter, which soon symbolized to many the air war in Southeast Asia, 
became a valuable attack plane with the addition of new multiple bomb 
racks. During the years from 1961 to 1964, work was begun on a close air 
support aircraft capable of carrier-based, all-weather operation and able to 
deliver rockets, bombs, and guided missiles, as well as small nuclear 
weapons. This aircraft was designated the A-6 Intruder. The newly 
designed A-7 Corsair II was intended for a similar role. Another effort was 
the development of the P-3 Orion patrol plane, a planned successor to the 
P-2 Neptune. The growing importance of helicopters was reflected in 
development of the CH-46 and CH-53 helicopters for the Marine Corps 
and the UH-2A and SH-3A for the Navy.' 

During the period from 1961 to 1964, the Navy initiated programs to 
develop more effective aviation ordnance for conventional warfare, as 
well. Several improved variants of the successful Sidewinder and Sparrow 
air-to-air missiles were accepted and pushed through production for 
delivery to the fleet in 1965. At the same time, the accurate Bullpup air- 
to-ground missile was reconfigured to carry a larger 1,000-pound 
warhead. The Shrike missile, designed to home in on ground radar, and 
the TV-guided Walleye glide-bomb, were both the result of the greater 
attention devoted to non-nuclear ordnance in the early 19605.*^ 

"•DOD, Annual Report of the Secretary of Defense, FV1961 (Washington: GPO, 1962), pp. 4, 14, 16- 
18, 28, 201, 218, 371; DOD, Annual Report of the Secretary of Defense, FY1964 (Washington: GPO, 
1965), pp. 15, 252; President, "Special Message to the Congress on the Defense Budget," of 28 Mar 
1961 in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United States: John F. Kennedy. 1961, pp. 229-32, 236-37; 
McNamara, The Essence of Security, p. 78; Adam Yarmolinsky, The Military Establishment: Its Impacts on 
American Society (New York: Harper and Row, 1971), p. 9; Gregory Palmer, The McNamara Strategy 
and the Vietnam War: Program Budgeting in the Pentagon, 1960-1968 (Westpon, CT: Greenwood Press, 
1978), pp. 49-52; Futrell, Ideas. Concepts, and Doctrine, pp. 317, 322, 329-39; Jerome H. Kahan, 
Security in the Nuclear Age: Deieloping U.S. Strategic Weapons Policy (Washington: Brookings Institution, 
1975), p. 75. 

^OP-902, "Ship Operating Forces of the U.S. Navy-Historical Force Levels by Category Types," of 
6 Feb 1980; Burke, memos for record, ser 0099-61 of 13 Feb 1961; ser 000112-61 of 17 Feb; CNO, 
"Position on Matters of Current Interest," 1964; Futrell, Ideas. Concepts and Doctrine, pp. 339-44, 349- 

*CNO, "Naval Aviation Summary," of 1 Oct 1964. 

280 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

Perhaps the most innovative measure taken to improve the Navy's 
projection forces was Admiral Burke's endorsement of amphibious assault 
ship (LPH) construction. Iwo Jima, the first in her class, entered fleet 
service in 1961, followed in succeeding years by Okinawa (LPH-3), 
Guadalcanal (LPH-7), Guam (LPH-9), and Tripoli (LPH-10). These 23- 
knot vessels could embark a Marine BLT of 1,900 men, much of the unit's 
basic equipment and supplies, and a full-strength Marine helicopter 
squadron. The combination of fast amphibious ship and airborne Marine 
landing force proved to be a versatile resource for Cold War and limited 
war employment. In another move to provide amphibious forces capable 
of strong and quick reaction to crises, the Navy built a class of modern 
amphibious transport docks (LPD). The ships possessed the 20-knot speed 
deemed the goal for the future amphibious fleet. Designed as an 
improved LSD, the LPD transported forces ashore through the use of its 
organic LCMs and LCUs. Cargo and troop loading was greatly accelerated 
through the use of the ship's enclosed well deck. Raleigh (LPD-1) was 
commissioned in 1961, followed by Vancouver (LPD-2) and LaSalle (LPD- 
3) in the years thereafter. The authorization, in September 1961, to build 
the new Austin (LPD-4) class ships heralded the subsequent award of nine 
more such ships during the period. With these commissionings and the 
activation of older vessels, the amphibious fleet rose from 113 ships in 
1961 to 133 ships in 1964.^ The increase in Marine personnel strength 
allowed the full manning of the three active Marine division-air wing 
teams and the provision of a nucleus for the fourth reserve division-air 
wing team. Three additional assault helicopter squadrons were established 
to accommodate the new, more capable CH-46 assault helicopters being 

The Navy introduced other ships which promised to ease the underway 
logistic support of deployed forces in forward areas. When Sacramento 
(AOE-1), which combined the functions of an oiler, an ammunition ship, 

"OP-902, ■■Listing of Ships by Delivery Dates by Fiscal Year FY1958-FY1988," of 31 Mar 1980; 
OP-902 ■■Ship Operating Forces;" CNO, Naval Aviation Summary, ser 0O1OO2P5O of 1 Apr 1963; 
ser 001009P50 of 1 Oct 1964; SECNAV, 'Annual Report,' in DOD, Annual Report, FY1961, pp. 
197-98; Burke, memo for record, ser 000112-61 of 17 Feb 1961; Itrs, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 
61/000112 of 15 Apr 1961; Burke to Taylor, of 22 Apr; CINCPAC to JCS, ser 000103 of 3 Apr 
1962; William Case, 'USS Sacramento (AOE-1 )," USNIP (Dec 1967), pp. 88-102; Fails, Marines and 
Helicopters, pp. 23-26; John S. Rowe and Samuel L. Morison, The Ships and Aircraft of the U.S. Fleet 
(Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 1972), pp. 68, 114, 124, 171-77; Marolda, "The Influence of 
Burke's Boys on Limited War," pp. 36-41. 

"OP-508, ■■Naval Forces Summary," of May 1980; Fails, Marines and Helicopters, pp. 52-55. 

Readiness of the Fleet for Limited War 281 

and a cargo ship, entered the fleet in 1964, she was capable of supplying 
the entire carrier task force with 165,000 barrels of aviation and ship fuel, 
ammunition, and materials, a task made easier by her 26-knot speed. The 
combat stores ship (AFS) combined the functions of the older stores ship 
(AF), stores issue ship (AKS), and aviation supply ship (AVS). The 
construction contract for Mars (AFS-1 ), the first of a seven-ship class, was 
awarded in May of 1961. The 581-foot floating depot could carry and 
dispense 1 18,000 cubic feet of refrigerated stores and 308,000 cubic feet 
of non-refrigerated provisions. Mars possessed the first shipboard comput- 
er designed to speed the processing of supplies. And, as with Sacramento, 
the AFS boasted several UH-46A helicopters to augment traditional ship- 
to-ship supply transfer procedures with the innovative "vertical replenish- 
ment" method that later would figure so prominently in the logistic 
support of a fleet in combat.^ 

Strengthening the Pacific Fleet 

During the Kennedy years, major improvements were made in the 
Pacific Fleet. Many were a continuation of efforts begun late in the 
Eisenhower administration, while others reflected the Kennedy adminis- 
tration's stress on conventional warfare. Specifically, the fleet was 
strengthened by the activation, in December 1961, of 1 attack cargo ship, 
1 transport submarine, 2 high-speed transports (APD), 2 oilers, and 2 
stores ships. CINCPAC also took steps to retain MSTS troopships and 
civilian-manned LSTs in the Pacific in order to support limited war 
contingencies. To improve the readiness of amphibious forces to react to 
Southeast Asian developments, important organizational changes also 
were initiated. In January 1962, Commander Amphibious Group 1, Rear 
Admiral Edwin B. Hooper, assumed the responsibilities of Commander 
Amphibious Force, Seventh Fleet and established a permanent home port 
for the command at Subic Bay, close to the troubled Indochinese 
peninsula. Previously, amphibious group commanders and their staffs 
rotated between the Eastern and Western Pacific. ^° Nearby, at Cubi Point, 

'Op-902, "Listing of Ships;" Mars, Ship History. 

'"CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1962, pp. 9, 10; CINCPAC, Command History, 1962, pp. 
32-79; COMPHIBGRUONE, Command History, 1964; COM7FLT, "Weekly Summaries," May 
1961-May 1962; "Seventh Fleet Briefing of Limited War Study Group" in Itr, Griffin to Burke, ser 

282 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

a Marine battalion landing team and its supporting aircraft were kept in 
readiness to respond quickly to developments across the South China Sea. 
On Okinawa an alert SEABEE battalion was established, ready to react on 
six-days notice with most of its basic allowance of materials and supplies. 
Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 3 was prepared for rapid deploy- 
ment anywhere in the Western Pacific. Another battalion, on Guam, was 
prepared to deploy on ten-days notice." 

To further prepare the fleet for the type of operations anticipated in 
Southeast Asia, in 1961-1964 stocks of "Lazy Dog" antipersonnel 
munitions and related ordnance were provided Seventh Fleet naval forces 
on a priority basis. Training in their employment was also undertaken. 
Extended operations in the South China Sea and contiguous tropical 
waters also highlighted the deleterious effects of high temperatures and 
humidity on ships and men, especially in the amphibious forces. As an 
expedient, commercial air conditioners available at Subic Bay were 
installed in ships of the Amphibious Ready Group. For the long term. 
Admiral Sides pressed for a program to air condition the older ships in the 

At the same time, intelligence efforts were expanded and intensified. 
By mid-summer 1962, Seventh Fleet aerial photographic squadrons had 
almost completed the mapping of South Vietnam as well as other critical 
areas in Southeast Asia. To improve photographic intelligence by carrier- 
based units, instruction in collection requirements and proper equipment 
use was pressed. And, in anticipation of future emergencies, two photo 
interpretation teams were kept in readiness at Cubi Point with Detach- 
ment Alpha of VAP 61 in order to augment Seventh Fleet sections. In 
addition, the photographic interpretation facility at Cubi Point was 
upgraded to a "Special Fleet Lab" and provided with extra equipment and 

Reflecting the growing concern with the possible need for a landing on 
the Southeast Asian mainland, Rear Admiral Ray C. Needham, CINC- 

00029 of 12 Jul 1961, p. 4; Norman Polmar, Aircraft Carriers: A Graphic History of Carrier Aviation and 
Its Influence on W'orU Events (Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1969), pp. 612-13- 

"CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1962, pp. 48-49; Itr, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 45/00527 
of 23 Jun 1962; Tregaskis, Southeast Asia: Building the Bases, pp. 52-57. 

"CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1961, p. 62; FY1962, pp. 24, 31; CINCPAC, Command 
History, 1961, p. 72; msgs, CNO 111741Z Feb 1961; COMNAVAIRPAC 251856Z Mar; 
CHBUWEPS 260609Z Mar; CPFLT 120540Z Apr. 

'^CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1962, pp. 2, 37-38; msg, CTU70.3.1 131709Z Oct 1961. 

Readiness of the Fleet for Limited War 283 

PACFLT Chief of Staff, in October 1961 requested that the Amphibious 
Objective Studies Program again concentrate on this area. He recom- 
mended that the updating of existing studies on the Nha Trang-Cape Ke 
Ga, Danang, Cape Vung Tau-Phan Thiet-Qui Nhon, and Vinh (the latter 
site in North Vietnam) landing areas be given top priority and that new 
coverage be obtained on the Quang Tri-Hue area, as well as the Dong 
Hoi and Thanh Hoa regions of North Vietnam. In contrast to previous 
submissions, it was requested that the coverage be extended out to the 
100-fathom curve and 100 miles inland. ''' 

With most indicators pointing to a continuation of low-level armed 
conflict in the countries of Southeast Asia, and possibly the involvement of 
external powers, the importance to the fleet of U.S. naval support facilities 
on Okinawa, Guam, and especially the Philippines became paramount. 
Early in 1961, CINCPACFLT expressed his strong opposition to Pacific 
base reductions recently under consideration by the Eisenhower adminis- 
tration. Admiral Sides stated that "in view of potentially explosive 
situation SE Asia any reduction or phase out West Pacific Navy Bases can 
only be accomplished with acceptance of fact that ability to support 
contingency Ops will be jeopardized."'' This view was echoed several 
months later by the Naval Inspector General, who conducted a survey of 
naval shore activities with representatives from other offices and com- 
mands from 21 February to 22 March 1961. In the group's final report, it 
was emphasized that the Subic Bay-Sangley Point complex was a 
"convenient gateway and an excellent staging base for possible local war 
situations arising in the politically unstable South East Asian and Indone- 
sian Archipelago countries.""' With the need for a greatly improved 
logistic complex in the Western Pacific soon graphically demonstrated 
during the Laos crisis of April-May 1 96 1 , and the alarm in South Vietnam 
in the fall. Pacific naval leaders pressed anew for a revitalization of support 

On the other hand, the progress of the effort to strengthen the support 
facilities closest to Southeast Asia was limited. Early in 1962 Commander 
Service Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, Rear Admiral Redfield Mason, recom- 
mended that serious consideration be given to shifting shore-based logistic 

""Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 62/000244 of U Oct 1961. 
'^Msg, CPFLT ADMINO 090008Z Feb 1961. 

"^Ltr, Naval Inspector General to SECNAV, ser 015P008 of 24 Apr 1961. See also Itr, 
CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 42/00492 of 7 Jun 1963. 

284 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

resources from Japan to the Philippines. Admiral Charles D. Griffin, the 
Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Fleet Operations and Readiness), did 
not concur. He observed that the United States had definite commitments 
to Japan and that there "are many people more fearful of the threat from 
North Korea than that existing in Southeast Asia."'" 

Nevertheless, in the Philippines themselves, a number of steps were 
taken in 1961-1964 to prepare for future contingencies. Stocks of ship 
parts, electronic equipment, medical and dental, and other emergency 
fleet support items were increased at the Naval Supply Depot, Subic Bay. 
Throughout the Philippines, construction of fuel storage facilities at U.S. 
installations was expanded and expedited. At the Cubi-Sangley Point 
complex, which had witnessed a dramatic increase in air operations during 
the previous year, approval was granted to construct a pipeline extension 
to the carrier fueling wharf and to rebuild the airfield runway. The shore 
bases in the Western Pacific were being prepared to deal with an 
increased tempo of operations that recent events presaged.'® 

Exercise Tulungan 

While the Navy improved units, facilities, aircraft, weapons, and 
material for non-nuclear operations, it also trained Pacific Fleet forces for 
this type of combat, with a focus on Southeast Asia. Specifically, during 
1962-1963, greater attention was devoted to the conduct of small-scale 
amphibious exercises using the recently instituted Amphibious Ready 
Group and its Special Landing Force. In addition to numerous helicopter, 
over-the-beach, and reconnaissance exercises carried out unilaterally, the 
units of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps also participated in combined 
training with the other nations in the area. This included jungle warfare 
and over-the-beach training with Thai marine and naval units in Exercise 
Jungle Drum and mining familiarization with Thai and British forces as 
part of Exercise Experience IV. Under SEATO auspices, U.S. naval forces 
took part in Sea Devil, which involved the control of shipping in the South 

"CINCPACFLT, "Type Commanders' Conference, 19-20 February 1962, ■' ser 00/00192-62 of 2 
Mar 1962. See also CINCPACFLT, "Type Commanders' Conference, 19-20 February 1962, " 
Agenda Items, ser 001/00131 of 10 Feb 1962, item 34. 

'^CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY 1962, pp. 48, 55-57. 

Readiness of the Fleet for Limited War 285 

China Sea. Another SEATO exercise, Air Cobra, simulated an air-ground 
defense of Thailand against an aggressor. 

The most noteworthy exercise during this period was Tulungan, 
meaning "mutual assistance," which involved over 70 ships, 400 aircraft, 
and 37,000 men in the largest amphibious training operation in the Pacific 
since World War II. It was conducted from 2 March to 12 April 1962. 
Tulungan had been in various stages of planning since I960, but these 
efforts only came to fruition with the announcement in August 1961 by 
the SEATO Military Advisors Council that the multinational event would 
take place early the following year. The intent and relevance of this 
undertaking was clear from the beginning — to deter the Communist 
powers from pursuing a campaign of indirect aggression in Southeast Asia 
by demonstrating the military strength and collective resolve of the 
SEATO alliance to counter any such threat. U.S. leaders felt that 
aggression might consist of guerrilla warfare and subversion, as well as 
cross-border invasion. The initial scenario depicted a situation where an 

aggressor guerrilla force had infiltrated into [hypothetical country later 
called "Tahimik"] a Southeast Asian country which had appealed to 
SEATO for assistance. By February 1962, these guerrilla elements had 
become so strong that by direct assaults on military posts and subversion 
and terrorism of local population, aggressors were able to seize control 
of central area of country without overt commitment of military units [italics 
added for emphasis]. However, reports had been received that some 
aggressor regular military forces had moved into this area." 

Because the British objected to the implicit acceptance of SEATO action 
before proof of overt attack had been obtained, however, the final 
scenario simulated allied military assistance to a country being invaded by 
large forces. Secretary of State Rusk accommodated the British view, but 
he emphasized that he did "not accept principle that there must be proven 
case overt aggression before we can contemplate use of SEATO military 
force. "2° 

Although the nature of the exercise made it applicable to operations 
in Thailand or other Asian nations on the Communist periphery, the 
secret Tulungan operation order specifically identified South Vietnam 

"Msg, AMEMB Bangkok 10:55AM 12 Feb 1962. 

^"Msg, SECSTATE 8:20PM 13 Feb 1962. See also msgs, COM7FLT 261008Z Jan 1962; CTF72 
151001Z Feb; 011203Z Mar; 011205Z. 

286 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

as the model for the fictitious country of "Tahimik." Indeed, Rear 
Admiral Edwin B. Hooper, Commander Amphibious Force, Seventh 
Fleet, who was appointed exercise director, fashioned the planned 
landing area on Mindoro in the Philippines to reflect the "mirror- 
image" of the Southeast Asian mainland. The landing itself was to take 
place in that portion of the land mass corresponding to the northern 
provinces of South Vietnam — the I Corps Military Region.^' 

While a primary objective of Tulungan was the accomplishment of 
combined SEATO training on a large scale and the development of close 
working relationships among participating members, only the United 
States and the Philippines, the cosponsors, contributed sizeable forces. 
Continuing disagreement over the nature of the exercise prompted Britain 
and New Zealand to drop out, and Australia reduced its contingent to one 
squadron of tactical aircraft. In overall command of Tulungan as exercise 
director, Admiral Hooper also served as commander of the amphibious 
task force. Major General John P. Condon, USMC, Commander Fleet 
Marine Force, Seventh Fleet, was in charge of the combined landing force. 
This contingent was composed of the 1st Philippines Battalion Combat 
Team, the 9th Marine Expeditionary Force of the 3rd Marine Division, 
1st Marine Aircraft Wing elements, an Air and Naval Gunfire Liaison 
Company team, a SEABEE battalion, and other miscellaneous units. 

Beginning with the loading of equipment and embarkation of person- 
nel at Yokosuka, Iwakuni, Buckner Bay, and Manila on 2 March, the 
exercise proceeded through various stages. By 14 March, Eldorado (AGC- 
11) with Rear Admiral Hooper on board, Princeton, and the ships of 
Amphibious Squadron 1, Amphibious Squadron 7, and Landing Ship 
Squadron 9 were assembled off Okinawa. Provided antisubmarine escort 
by Bennington and ten destroyers, the group sailed for Subic Bay. The U.S. 
naval force intentionally made known its presence to the Chinese 
Communists when it steamed through the Taiwan Strait enroute to the 

The main amphibious assault on Mindoro by 15,000 Marines and the 
Filipino battalion got underway on the morning of 26 March with Rear 
Admiral Hooper's traditional order, from his flagship Eldorado, to "land 
the landing force." On the southern, or Blue Beach, the Filipino battalion 
combat team stormed ashore while the 2nd Battalion, 9th Marines were 

Hooper, Interview with Mason, p. 333. 

Readiness of the Fleet for Limited War 287 

flown off Princeton to a landing zone inland. Major General Robert E. 
Cushman, USMC, the 3rd Marine Division commander, was in charge of 
the Blue Beach forces. To the north, at Red Beach, Brigadier General 
Ormand Simpson, USMC, commanded the assault of the 3rd Marine 
Regimental Landing Team. Once ground troops secured the airstrip at San 
Jose, where a SEABEE unit and MABS 12 elements had readied a Short 
Expeditionary Landing Field (SELF) before the exercise, C-130 transports 
airlifted the 3rd Battalion, 9th Marines from Okinawa. Air support was 
provided by the Hancock aircraft of Commander Carrier Division 3, Rear 
Admiral Paul P. Blackburn, Marine aircraft of VMA 332 from Cubi Point, 
and Filipino and Australian land-based aircraft. By 2400 the following 
day, 27 March, the off-loading of personnel, equipment, and cargo was 
completed, as was the airlift operation. 

For the rest of the month, the expeditionary force sought their elusive 
foe. Perhaps as a foretaste of the later cost and frustration in bringing the 
Viet Cong to battle, early reports in the exercise indicated that for 6 
captured "aggressors," the Marines lost 8 "killed" and 55 "wounded." 
Asked by a public relations representative whether this was "an indication 
that a handful of skilled and well-led guerrillas would win this war," 
General Condon replied, "no, SEATO will gain the advantage and win 
the war."^^ Several days later the landing force still had not made solid 
contact with the guerrillas, as the latter withdrew "further into the back 
country of Tahimik." The press release stated that "undoubtedly, a strong 
action will be encountered as the aggressors are pushed against the 
wall."^^ However, this had not occurred when the land operation was 
terminated on 31 March and the 9th Marine Expeditionary Force began 
reembarking in Seventh Fleet ships for return to normal stations. 

One of the stated objectives of Tulungan, the development of improved 
coordination and cooperation among SEATO forces for contingency 
operations on the Southeast Asian mainland, was only partially successful, 
due to the limited international composition of the forces involved. But 
the training received by U.S. naval, land, and air forces in an undertaking 
of such size and complexity served the fleet well in succeeding years. ^"^ 

"Msg, CTF72 271445Z Mar 1962. 

"Msg, CTF72 291033Z Mar 1962. 

■^Several of the higher commanders who participated in Tulungan were in positions of importance 
in the later period of the Vietnam conflict. Both Generals Cushman and Simpson led Marine forces in 
South Vietnam, Rear Admiral Blackburn became Commander Seventh Fleet, and Rear Admiral 

288 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

Shortfalls in Conventional Warfare Readiness 

Although the administration and the Navy gave greater emphasis to 
preparation for conventional warfare and projection of power ashore 
during this period, progress in strengthening the fleet was not uniform. 
Significant deficiencies remained that threatened to hamper the successful 
conduct of operations. This situation resulted from a number of factors. 
The Kennedy administration increasingly focused on the rapid develop- 
ment of unique forces — the special units slated for counterinsurgency 
warfare — sometimes to the detriment of the more traditional forces. And 
the conventional forces that were favored with budgetary support were 
primarily those of the other services. Between 1961 and mid- 1964 the 
number of Army divisions grew from eleven to sixteen, the number of Air 
Force tactical air squadrons increased by half, and the Army's aircraft 
inventory, comprising helicopters, observation planes, and transports, rose 
from 5,564 to over 6,000. Marine ground forces received priority 
attention as well.'^ 

Within the Navy's budget, the Polaris program continued to receive 
primary funding support. By the end of Fiscal Year 1964, twenty -one 
submarines had entered fleet service for the strategic retaliatory function, 
compared with only five by June 1961. The importance of the sea control 
mission, especially with regard to the threat from the powerful Soviet 
submarine fleet, also demanded concentration on resources for antisubma- 
rine and antiaircraft warfare. Funds for the construction or reconfiguration 
of attack submarines and surface escort ships were a prime requirement. 
Arming surface ships with modern missile systems was another high 

Hooper commanded the Service Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet. Exercise Director (CTF-260) and 
COMPHIBGRUONE, OPORD 301-62 of 13 Jan 1962; CINCPAC. Command History, 1961, p. 
146; 1962, p. 131; CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, 1962, p. 34; COM7FLT "Weekly Summaries," 
28 Feb-24 Apr 1962; COMPH1BGRUONE/COMPHIBFOR7FLT, Command History, 1962; 
Hooper, Interview with Whitlow; Hooper, Interview with Mason, pp. 324-29, 332-39; memo, 
CINCPACFLT to CNO, of 20 Mar 1962; msgs, CTF260 SITREPS 1 (220359Z Mar)-7(280530Z 
Mar); CTF72, Press Releases 1(191051Z Feb)-46(291033Z Mar); CTU261.8 111450Z Mar; Itr, 
CINCPACFLT to CINCPAC, ser 21/001031 of 4 Dec 1962. 

"Memos, SECNAV to Chairman, JCS, of 25 Apr 1961; OP-601C7 to CNO, BM000251-61 of 
May; SECNAV, "Annual Report" in DOD, Annual Report, FY1964, pp. 3-4, 21-22; Kaufman, 
McNamara Strategy, pp. 98, 100; Alain C. Enthoven and K. Wayne Smith, How Much Is Enough? (New 
York: Evanston, 1971), pp. 223, 268-69; McNamara, Eisence of Security, pp. 80-84; Edward A. 
Kolodziej, The Uncommon Defense and Congress, 1945-1963 (Athens: Ohio Univ. Press, 1966), pp. 406- 
08; Futrell, Ideas. Concepts, and Doctrine, pp. 361-63, 378-82; Kahan, Security in the Nuclear Age, p. 78; 
Yarmolinsky, The Military Establishment, pp. 7-9, 15, 20-21. 

Readiness of the Fleet for Limited War 289 

priority item. But, with the exception of the favorable treatment accorded 
the LPH, LPD, AOE, and AFS building programs, the fleet's projection 
forces and the logistic units needed to support them generally received 
lean support. At the end of 1962, CINCPACFLT complained that "lack of 
sufficient personnel and money are the causes of all our worries and the 
continued shortage of both are causing a gradual but sure degradation of 
our overseas readiness. "^^ 

The competition for funding support also adversely affected the Navy's 
budding motor gunboat (PGM) project. U.S. participation during 1962 in 
the coastal patrol off South Vietnam clearly revealed that the Navy 
required craft more suitable to this mission than ocean minesweepers and 
destroyer escorts. This deficiency had long been recognized by naval 
leaders, but plans — and funds — for the development of prototype 
coastal patrol craft were consistently deferred for higher priority construc- 
tion. This pattern was repeated in late 1961 when Secretary of Defense 
McNamara changed from sixteen to two the number of motor gunboats 
scheduled for construction in the Fiscal Year 1963 building program. 
Only two more ships subsequently were approved for the Fiscal Year 
1964 plan. 

Despite their limited number, the Navy felt the PGM a promising 
vessel for coastal warfare. As a result, on 5 March 1962, the Chief of 
Naval Operations directed that the PGM prototypes be designed with 
"good seakeeping abilities and an adequate endurance suitable for patrol, 
blockade or surveillance missions in waters other than the open seas and 
rivers."^' The characteristics of the PGM included a 165-foot length, 
23.5-foot beam, and a 230-ton displacement fully loaded. Powered by 
both diesel engines and gas turbines, the motor gunboat would be capable 
of attaining a speed of 30 knots and a range of 1,700 miles. Armament 
included one 3-inch/50-caliber gun mounted forward, one 40-millimeter 
gun mounted aft, two 50-caliber machine guns, two 81 -millimeter 
mortars, and twelve Redeye antiaircraft missiles. For close-in coastal work. 

^'Ltr, Sides to Ricketts, of 21 Dec 1962. 

"CNO, OPNAV Instruction 09010.175, ser 0184P42 of 5 Mar 1962. See also memos, OP-34, ser 
8-62 of 12 Jan 1962; OP-93 to OP-42, ser 09P93 of 12 Jan; msg, CLFLT, 232344Z Jan; Itrs, 
CINCPAC to CNO, ser 057 of 29 Jan; CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 61/001 16 of 6 Feb; memos, OP- 
93 to OP-03, ser 031P93 of 1 Mar; OP-34 to OP-03, ser 0541-62 of 9 Aug; Itr, Griffin to Burke, of 
12 Jul 1961 end. in Itr, Burke to Griffin, of 27 Jul 1961. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

*!S Wk 

. I. ■ 





Readiness of the Fleet for Limited War 291 

the PGM was thought to be a good amalgam of weapons, hull design, and 
power plant. ^* 

Naval aviation experienced a similar constraint on its full development. 
In the first half of 1961, the CNO observed that the procurement of 
aircraft was not keeping pace with losses through wear, obsolescence, 
accidents, and other causes. He added that the fleet required 7,200 
operating aircraft. More capable planes, such as the Phantom II which 
joined the fleet in 1961, were not compensation enough for the overall 
shortage. Admiral Burke advised Secretary of the Navy John B. Connally, 
Jr., that "the Navy has the best tactical aircraft and the best close air 
support aircraft in existence in the world but we don't have very many of 
them."^' As late as July 1962 CINCPACFLT identified another problem: 
"The continued evolution of the attack aircraft toward a special purpose, 
supersonic, nuclear weapon delivery aircraft has seriously impaired its 
effectiveness in the Close Air and Helicopter Support roles. "^° Significant 
progress was made, however, by June 1964, in adapting strike aircraft, 
such as the A-5 Vigilante and the A-3 Skywarrior, to conventional roles, 
primarily in the photographic reconnaissance configuration. 

The lack of required numbers in the Navy's inventory was not 
reversed. During the period from 1961 to mid-1964 the total number of 
operating aircraft rose by 167, but because of a low production rate, the 
overall inventory decreased by 1,168 to 10,274 aircraft. And while 
several categories of aircraft registered gains, the critical fighter, attack, 
and transport type planes were 197 fewer in number in June 1964 than 
three years earlier. As a result, one naval and two Marine attack-fighter 
squadrons were deactivated during this period." 

The dearth of adequate amphibious shipping and sealift resources for 
the provision of troops, reinforcements, and their logistic support 
continued to plague naval planners. The new LPHs and LPDs were not 
able to fully compensate for the advancing age of the World War II 
amphibious fleet. Rather than institute a large-scale shipbuilding program. 

^"CNO, OPNAV Instruction 09010.175, ser 0184P42 of 5 Mar 1962; Rowe and Morison, Ships 
and Aircraft, p. 62. 

"Memo, CNO to SECNAV, ser 00359-61 of 18 Jul 1961. See also CNO, Statement before House 
Armed Services Committee, of 8 Mar 1961. 

'°Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 32/00606 of 19 Jul 1962. 

"OP-508, "Naval Forces Summary," of May 1980; Itrs, SECNAV to SECDEF, ser 00121 of 31 
Aug 1962; CINCPACFLT to COMNAVAIRPAC, ser 32/00894 of 24 Oct; CNO, "Naval Aviation 
Summary," of 1 Oct 1964. 

292 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

as the Navy advocated, the Kennedy administration suggested that the 
optimum service life of these and other ships be extended from twenty to 
thirty years through ship conversion and rehabilitation measures. Howev- 
er, the Fleet Rehabilitation and Modernization (FRAM) program concen- 
trated on the highest priority surface combatants. In August 1963 Admiral 
Sides stated that "the funding level in recent years has proven barely 
adequate, and in some instances, less than adequate" to support the 
material readiness of the operating forces.^' Shipboard material and spare 
parts deficiencies and limitations on combat training resulted from this 
situation. The material condition of the fleet remained marginal as funds 
for ship overhauls and maintenance were often cut back.^' 

The average 12-14 knot speed of the amphibious fleet and growing 
obsolescence remained as detriments to readiness. The reactivation in 
1961 of additional amphibious ships from the Reserve Fleet helped the 
numbers situation somewhat, but by June 1964 there were twenty fewer 
amphibious ships in the Pacific Fleet than CINCPACFLT thought 
essential. In mid- 1962, the Pacific Fleet was able to lift simultaneously 
only half of the Marine forces required for the defense of Southeast Asia 
in CINCPAC Operation Plan 32. The Seventh Fleet's Task Force 76 was 
required to transport 24,800 Marine personnel and 10,000,000 cubic feet 
of cargo but had the capacity to lift simultaneously only 1 1,500 personnel 
and 2,000,000 cubic feet of cargo. The First Fleet, responsible for 
carrying Marine forces on the U.S. West Coast and the 1st Marine Brigade 
in Hawaii to the Western Pacific, was similarly ill prepared to do so. These 
deficiencies were exacerbated in late 1962 when much of the Pacific 
Fleet's amphibious resources passed through the Panama Canal to support 
the military buildup generated by the Cuban Missile Crisis. The Pacific 
Fleet commander, Admiral Sides, privately informed the CNO that "their 
absence has really put a crimp into my readiness to back up Tom Moorer 
in case anything should pop in WESTPAC."^^ The shortage of these forces 
continued through 1963 and early 1964. Although CINCPAC had access 
to MSTS and merchant shipping in a crisis, it was obvious that more 

*'Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CINCPAC, ser 41/00694 of 9 Aug 1963. 

"CINCPACFLT, ■Type Commanders' Conference," 1962, pp. 48-49, 56-58. 60-64; Agenda, 
items 29, 30, 92, 93; 'Conference, 6-7 Feb 1963," ser 001/0089 of 29 Jan 1963, Agenda, tabs B, I; 
"Conference, 6-7 February 1963," ser 001/00195 of 25 Feb 1963, pp. 1-25, 56-66; Roswell 
Gilpatrick, transcript of speech to National Association of Manufacturers, of 25 Jan 1963; msg, CNO 
212349Z Jan 1964. 

'^Ltr, Sides to Anderson, of 5 Nov 1962. 

Readiness of the Fleet for Limited War 293 

vessels would be needed to transport ground troops and provide a 
dependable logistic pipeline to Southeast Asia in the event of war.^^ 

Early in the Kennedy administration, Secretary of Defense McNamara 
concluded that U.S. airlift resources, because of their ability to respond 
quickly to distant crises, should be used primarily to carry troops, light 
weapons, and material while the slower sealift should be designated to 
transport heavy equipment and bulk supplies. Admiral Burke and other 
naval leaders, however, believed that too heavy reliance should not be 
placed on aircraft transportation because of its much lower personnel and 
cargo capacity' in comparison to that of sealift. The Laos crisis of April and 
May 1961 highlighted the constraints on air operations in Southeast Asia. 
Conversely, the deployment and support of major Marine, Army, and Air 
Force contingents in Thailand the following year demonstrated the 
important contribution of sealift to strategic readiness. 

Still, the Secretary of Defense became concerned with the response 
time required by Pacific shipping in certain limited war contingencies. To 
rectify this situation, McNamara favored the prepositioning in critical 
forward areas of ships loaded to equip troop units airlifted in during a 
crisis. In 1963 this "Floating Forward Depot" concept was tested with the 
deployment at Subic Bay of converted Victory ships USNS Proi'o (T-AG- 
173), USNS Cheyenne (T-AG-174), and USNS Phoenix (T-AG-172) under 
MSTS control. But top naval leaders were unenthusiastic about immobiliz- 
ing scarce ships that would require secure ports in which to disembark 
their cargo. Rear Admiral George H. Miller, the Director, Long Range 
Objectives Group, expressed the Navy's inclination to rely instead on 
naval task forces "'prepositioned' by the U.S. government before 
potentially dangerous situations reach the crisis stage."'*' Admiral McDon- 
ald, the CNO, endorsed the view of the Commandant of the Marine 
Corps that "prepositioning should not be considered as a substitute for 
ready forces in the forward area which are required for initial reaction in 

''Memo, Burke to Moorer, ser 0083-61 of 5 Feb 1961; CNO, Statement before House Armed 
Services Committee, of 8 Mar; Itrs, CINCPACFLT to CNO, of 15 Apr; Griffin to Burke, of 12 Jul 
end. in Itr, Burke to Griffin, of 27 Jul; CINCPAC toJCS, ser 000103 of 3 Apr 1962; CINCPACFLT 
to CHBUMED, ser 75/00523 of 22 Jun 1962; CINCPACFLT to CGFMFPAC/COMPHIBPAC, ser 
61/00465 of 27 May 1963; CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 32/00718 of 19 Aug; CINCPACFLT to 
CINCPAC, ser 41/00146 of 30 May 1964; CINCPACFLT, "Type Commanders' Conference," 
1962, Agenda, items 79, 80; CINCPACFLT, •'Conference, 6-7 February 1963," pp. 35-39, tab E; 
CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1964. 

'■^Memo, OP-93 to OP-09, ser 0053P93 of 18 Aug 1964. 

294 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

crisis situations."'^ The Navy's reluctance to adopt the Floating Forward 
Depot concept resulted in a continual search for solutions to the shortage 
of amphibious shipping, but the immediate problem was not solved. 

While new, improved conventional ordnance entered fleet service, 
problems with air and surface weapon systems and munitions continued to 
trouble naval commanders. The stress on deploying guided missiles in the 
fleet resulted in a decrease in the number of large-caliber guns capable of 
effective shore bombardment in support of ground operations. In 1963 
Admiral Sides observed that the active fleet possessed no 16-inch guns, 
only eighteen 8-inch guns, and only eighteen 6-inch guns. Since 1959, the 
number of 5-inch guns had decreased from 596 to 463. Compounding the 
problem, at the beginning of the decade, twenty-four landing ships, 
medium, rocket (LSMR), important vessels for close inshore fire, were 
inactivated. And by mid- 1964 only one all-gun cruiser. Saint Paul, sailed 
with the Pacific Fleet. '^ As a related problem, naval commanders noted a 
lack of proficiency in gunnery resulting from the emphasis on missile 
warfare. Commander Training Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, reported in early 
1962 that "even upon completion of refresher training some ships cannot 
demonstrate a satisfactory gunnery capability, and the majority are barely 
satisfactory. "'' 

Difficulties were also experienced with conventional ammunition and 
other ordnance. In mid- 1961 the Secretary of the Navy reported that the 
World War II and Korean War stocks of gun ammunition were dwindling 
because the low level of procurement authorized by the Defense 
Department did not equal expenditures. At the same time, the Long 
Range Objectives Group found air ordnance stockpiles inadequate. The 
Bureau of Weapons, after a "critical inspection," concluded that because 
of attention to nuclear warfare there were "serious deficiencies in the 
Attack Carrier Striking Forces non-nuclear attack capabilities."''" 

"Ltr, CMC to SECNAV, ser 003A21364 of 31 Jul 1964. See also memos, CNO to OP-03/OP-06, 
ser 0234-61 of 30 Apr 1961; OP-60 to OP-09, ser BM00853-61 of 23 Aug; SECNAV to SECARM/ 
SECAF/CHJCS of 26 Sep; OP-93, of 30 Oct; SECNAV to SECDEF, ser 00043 1OP40 of 7 Nov; 
SECNAV to CNO, of 16 Feb 1962; CNO to SECNAV, ser 0029P401 of 30 Jun; Itr, CINCPACFLT 
to COMNAVPHIL, ser 41/00777 of 17 Sep; Executive Asst, CNO, ser 00191-64 of 16 Jul 1964. 

'"Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 32/00606 of 19 Jul 1962; ser 31/00109 of 27 Dec; 
CINCPACFLT, -CINCPACFLT Conference, 6-7 Feb 1963, ' p. 36, tab E; Rowe and Morison, Shipi 
and Aircraft, p. 65; CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1964; Itr, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 32/ 
00359m of 19 Apr 1963. 

"CINCPACFLT, "Type Commanders' Conference, " 1962, Agenda, item 55. 

■""OP-Oy, memo, ser 47-61 of Feb 1961. 

Readiness of the Fleet for Limited War 295 

After 1962, increased procurement was authorized for these munitions, 
but critical items continued to be in demand. In August 1963, the Pacific 
Fleet itemized those resources that were in short supply or would quickly 
be consumed in combat. These items included 3-inch and 5-inch shells, 
Tartar, Terrier, and Talos surface-to-air and Bullpup air-to-surface mis- 
siles, and torpedoes. The fleet was especially short of conventional aerial 
munitions, such as low-drag 250, 500, and 2,000-pound bombs and 
napalm bombs. ^' At the end of May 1964, CINCPACFLT reported that a 
period of extended air action in Southeast Asia would "result in aircraft 
out of commission for parts and conventional ammunition stock expendi- 
tures that will severely reduce available parts and stocks.'""^ 

Pacific Naval Forces on the Eve of War 

While a number of deficiencies detracted from its capability to fight a 
non-nuclear war, and especially to project conventional power ashore, the 
Pacific Fleet in mid- 1964 was a good deal stronger than it had been four 
years earlier. The general purpose forces of the fleet consisted of 434 
active ships. The 13 attack and antisubmarine aircraft carriers deployed 
throughout the Pacific constituted the backbone of the fleet's striking 
force. They were supported by 7 cruisers, 117 destroyer types, and 43 
submarines. The amphibious force comprised 72 ships, including 3 LPH, 
1 LPD, 15 LSD, 23 LST, 3 amphibious force flagships (AGC), and 27 
cargo and troop transport ships. To defend against any mine threat, the 
Pacific Fleet could deploy 43 coastal and ocean minesweepers. With the 
need for readiness to conduct coastal patrol, especially in Southeast Asia, 
the Navy had augmented the Pacific command's 19 DEs and radar picket 
escort ships (DER) with 9 escorts from the Naval Reserve Training Fleet. 
Enabling this powerful naval force to maintain a continuous presence 
throughout the vast Pacific were 111 auxiliary ships, including ammuni- 
tion, stores, cargo, surveying, and repair ships and oilers, tankers, tenders, 
and fleet tugs. 

"'Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CINCPAC, ser 41/00694 of 9 Aug 1963; msg, CNO 212349ZJan 1964; 
CINCPACFLT, "CINCPACFLT Conference, 6-7 Feb 1963, " pp. 83-86, tab M. 

"Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CINCPAC, ser 41/000146 of 30 May 1964. See also memos, OP-93 to 
CNO, ser 00209-61 of 30 Oct 1961; SECNAV to SECDEF, ser 00121 of 31 Aug 1962; SECNAV to 
SECDEF, of 12 May 1964; CINCPACFLT, "Type Commanders' Conference," 1962, Agenda, item 


United States Naty and Vietnam Conflict 

KN- 10093 
An F-4 Phantom 11 test fires a Sparrow III air-to-air missile off Point Mugu. California. 

The Pacific Fleet's Naval Air Force, consisting of both carrier and land- 
based aircraft, added considerably to U.S. strength in that ocean. The 
force was organized into 10 attack carrier air wings, 5 ASW carrier air 
groups, and 31 separate squadrons. The latter units performed special 
functions, such as airborne early warning, photographic reconnaissance, 
electronic intelligence collection, patrol, and training. The Marine Corps 
contributed another 2 air wings to the total. First-line aircraft included the 
F-4 Phantom II, F-8 Crusader, A-4 Skyhawk, A-3 Skywarrior, propeller- 
driven A-1 Skyraider, and all-weather A-6 Intruder in the fighter and 
attack roles. The S-2 Tracker was responsible for ASW tasks, while the EC- 
121 Warning Star provided the fleet with early warning, weather, and 
electronic support. Patrol duties were carried out by the P-2 Neptune, the 

Readiness of the Fleet for Limited War 297 

newer, all-weather P-3 Orion, and the P-5 Marlin seaplane. Mainstays of 
the naval helicopter force were the UH-34 Seahorse, the SH-3A Sea 
King, and the UH-2 Seasprite.^^ 

During this era, the Navy made a concerted effort to improve its ability 
to fight non-nuclear limited wars. The naval service built ships that 
promised to enhance the fleet's mobility, versatility, and endurance, 
qualities deemed essential to deterring or conducting a limited conflict. 
New types, such as the LPH, LPD, AFS, and AOE, soon entered fleet 
service. The Navy built three new carriers and also developed fixed-wing 
aircraft and helicopters especially suited to a conventional role. Greater 
research and development and manufacturing effort was devoted to non- 
nuclear ordnance. 

Despite the overall improvement in the Navy's conventional readiness, 
a number of problems persisted throughout the period, including the 
shortage of adequate numbers of key aircraft, amphibious vessels, and 
ships for sealift of troops and cargo. The material condition of the Pacific 
Fleet remained marginal. Similarly, naval forces were deficient in the 
number of large-caliber guns available for shore bombardment and in 
training for their use. Stocks of some conventional ordnance and spare 
parts remained low in the Pacific area. 

Even with these shortfalls, the Pacific Fleet was the strongest single 
naval force in the world. By mid- 1964, the fleet possessed the resources to 
conduct and support a limited war 7,000 miles from the continental 
United States in Southeast Asia. 

"'CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1964; CNO, •'Naval Aviation Summary," of 1 Oct 1964. 


The Advisory Program and the 

Vietnamese Navy in a Year of 

Turmoil, 1964 

The overthrow of the Diem government brought about a profound 
change in the nature of the war in Southeast Asia and each side's 
perception of the conflict. Although briefly hopeful that new political 
leadership would galvanize South Vietnam's counterinsurgency struggle, 
U.S. leaders soon expressed growing doubt that the country could survive 
its troubles. The problems were many and varied, but the lack of strong, 
durable leadership from the South Vietnamese government and the armed 
forces was the most fundamental defect. 

The Don-Minh-Kim regime which seized power from Diem succumbed 
after only several months of ineffectual and disharmonious government. 
On 3 1 January 1964 army General Nguyen Khanh ousted these leaders in 
a bloodless coup and established himself as the head of state. Although 
U.S. officials initially thought highly of Khanh, who was recognized as 
staunchly pro-American, his hold on power and direction of the country 
was tenuous. Khanh remained as the head of government until the fall, 
but that feat required an inordinate devotion to political intrigue, inaction 
on controversial but necessary policies, and greater reliance on U.S. 

The Diem coup also did serious injury to the Vietnamese Navy's officer 
corps. The close association of many top officers with the old regime 
resulted in their replacement by more junior and often less qualified men 
or by those who were politically acceptable to the new government. 
Captain Chung Tan Cang, formerly head of the River Force and sometime 
antagonist of the assassinated Quyen, was appointed Naval Deputy. Cang 
and General Nguyen Van Thieu, one of the chief officers involved in 


The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 299 

Diem's overthrow, served together in the merchant marine in the early 
1950s before the latter man joined the army. Although Gang was well 
thought of by some U.S. naval advisors, Captain Drachnik, a close friend 
of Quyen, found him "a very poor officer" who had revealed "traitorous" 
tendencies some time before the Diem coup. The American believed that 
Gang "certainly was not the kind of person you would want for a senior 
job in the Vietnamese Navy."' Other American advisors viewed Viet- 
nam's naval leadership with concern. For example, the new head of 
intelligence in the naval headquarters, a Gang loyalist, reportedly con- 
cerned himself more with politics than the war effort. Similarly, Lieuten- 
ant Frank T. Lazarchick, a Sea Force advisor, observed that "approximate- 
ly one-half of the commanding officers lack the experience necessary to 
command" their seagoing units.' This condition was reflected in the high 
number of groundings by Sea Force ships that year, especially the PGMs. 
In general, the development of a professional, dedicated, and cohesive 
officer corps was dealt a sharp blow by the Diem assassination of 
November 1963. As Gaptain Drachnik observed, the coup and the 
following political turmoil in South Vietnam "just eroded the two years of 
effort that we put in" the advisory program.^ 

The enemy clearly recognized and took advantage of the dissension in 
the South Vietnamese armed forces and a weakening in the war effort. 
Thus, the North Vietnamese leadership resolved at a meeting of the 
Gentral Gommittee of the Vietnam Workers' Party in December 1963 to 
significantly increase its support of the southern insurgency. As detailed in 
the top secret record of the meeting, later captured by American forces, 
Gommunist leaders determined that "the North must bring into fuller 
play its role as the revolutionary base for the whole nation.'"* The 
directive specified that while being progressively strengthened, Gommu- 
nist forces would simultaneously destroy the Strategic Hamlets and 
concentrate on the regular units of the South Vietnamese armed forces. 

'Drachnik, Interview with Moss, pp. 14-15. See also Drachnik, Interview with Fitzgerald, pp. 23- 

^F. T. Lazarchick, End of Tour Repon, of 1 Jun 1964. 

'Drachnik, Interview with Fitzgerald, p. 52. See also Sea Force SITREP, of 9 Nov 1963; R. N. 
Channell, End of Tour Report, of 16 Jan 1964. 

■'"The Viet-Nam Workers' Party's 1963 Decision to Escalate the War in the South," in U.S. 
Mission, South Vietnam, "Viet-Nara Documents and Research Notes," Document No. 96 of Jul 
1971, p.i. See also, msg, CP 102155Z Dec 1963; Don, Our Endless War, pp. 1 16-24; Felt, Interview, 
pp. 621-23. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

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The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 301 

If the U.S. strategy of counterinsurgency failed, the North Vietnamese 
expected their adversary to escalate the conflict to the limited war level 
with the introduction into South Vietnam of U.S. and allied combat 
troops. The North Vietnamese also recognized the necessity to prepare 
"to cope with the eventuality of the expansion of the war into North Viet- 
Nam." Hoping to avoid this occurrence, however, the Central Committee 
report stressed the "necessity to contain the enemy in the 'special war' 
[counterinsurgency] and confine this war within South Viet-Nam."' 

Soon afterward, the movement south of men, weapons, and supplies 
increased dramatically. In contrast to 1963 when the flow of infiltrators 
actually declined, 1964 witnessed the introduction into South Vietnam of 
over 12,000 men, mostly indigenous North Vietnamese. The type of 
weapons being provided also signaled a change in the nature of the 
conflict. Rather than having the Viet Cong rely on their own sundry small 
arms of different calibers and captured U.S. weaponry, the North 
Vietnamese began providing the southern forces with weapons suited to 
heavy combat with regular Vietnamese Army units. Chinese-made recoil- 
less rifles, heavy machine guns, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, large 
mortars, and anti-tank mines began appearing in 1964 in quantity.^ 

Most of the enemy men and material reaching South Vietnam in 1964 
arrived via the Ho Chi Minh Trail complex in Laos. This logistical 
pipeline, however, soon was overloaded. To alleviate this bottleneck and 
to provide immediate assistance to Viet Cong forces in close proximity to 
the South Vietnamese coastal population, the Communists turned to the 
sea route. As revealed by Communist prisoners later in the war, 
infiltration of steel-hulled trawlers, with a capacity of 50 to 100 tons, 
increased six-fold from 1963 to 1964. The ten ships built in North 
Vietnamese yards were augmented in 1964 by another fifteen trawlers 
provided by Communist China. Each of the vessels reportedly conducted 
two voyages a month to the South laden with arms and ammunition. By 
the end of 1964 this operation constituted a consequential part of the 
overall North Vietnamese effort. Clearly, the enemy saw the year 

'■'The Viet-Nam Workers' Party's 1963 Decision," pp. 40, v, vii, viii, x, 6, 8, 15, 17, 21-23. See 
also msg, CPFLT 222148Z May 1964. 

''Weiner, Brom, and Koon, Infiltration, pp. 5, 7, 43-45; State Department, Aggression From the North, 
p. 15; William C. Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports (New York: Doubleday and Co., 1976), pp. 101, 
104; DIA, Special Intelligence Supplement, "Military Fact Book on the Republic of Vietnam," of Jul 

302 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

following Diem's ouster as a time of decision and used every means to 
bring about the total collapse of South Vietnam.^ 

Of particular concern to the U.S. Navy was increasing evidence that 
infiltration of arms and supplies into the Mekong Delta region of South 
Vietnam was coming by sea. In the early months of 1964, small 
"freighters" were reported to be carrying contraband from Singapore to 
the Camau Peninsula and submarines purportedly were sighted off the 
southern coast. However, the Navy was unable to confirm that the Viet 
Cong were procuring munitions in Singapore and Captain Drachnik 
dismissed the submarine reports with the observation that the shallow 
water off the southern coast would preclude even surface running by these 
vessels. He believed the "freighters" were actually 100 to 150-foot 
fishing vessels that purchased inexpensive fish off South Vietnam for 
resale in Singapore. 

Nonetheless, the possibility of seaborne infiltration worried other U.S. 
leaders. Following his trip to Southeast Asia at the end of 1963, Admiral 
Claude V. Ricketts, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, recorded his 
impressions: "I heard that there is much infiltration coming in by sea, 
particularly in the south. Material is coming over from Cambodia, 
transferred into shallow draft craft and then going into the waterways and 
becoming lost."^ Secretary of Defense McNamara, in the Pacific theater 
during December 1963, also was concerned that the waterways of the 
delta were being used by the Communists to transport war material. Upon 
his return to Washington he suggested to Admiral Felt that a team be sent 
to Vietnam to study the delta infiltration and to recommend ways of 
controlling it.' 

Further, the Secretary was troubled that the Vietnamese Navy units in 
the delta were not prepared to counter the enemy threat. Admiral Sharp, 
the Pacific Fleet commander, reported that McNamara "did not believe 
the Vietnamese Navy was being used to best advantage." In addition, "he 
thought their material condition was steadily improving and that Captain 
Drachnik was doing a good job, but that what they needed was more 

'Erdheim, Market Time; CINCPAC, "Infiltration Study," of 1 May 1968; DIA, "Viet Cong Use of 
Cambodia," No. 6 028 3647 68 of 10 May 1968; MACV, report, "Likely Locations for Sea 
Infiltration," ser 0636 of 5 May 1965; Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Vietnam: The Anti-V.S. Resistance 
War, pp. 32-33. 

''Ricketts, memo for record, of 20 Jan 1964. 

'Msg, DOD 2I1932Z Dec 1963. 

The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 303 

attention to naval concepts."'" For these reasons, the state of South 
Vietnamese naval forces in the delta became an important consideration at 
the beginning of 1964." 

The Bucklew Report 

To evaluate the extent of the Communist movement of men and 
munitions into the Mekong Delta and the effectiveness of South Vietnam- 
ese countermeasures, in January 1964 Admiral Felt directed the creation 
of a survey team headed by Rear Admiral Paul Savidge, Jr., Commander 
Amphibious Training Command, U.S. Pacific Fleet. When bad health 
incapacitated Admiral Savidge, Captain Phillip H. Bucklew, commander 
of the Naval Operations Support Group, U.S. Pacific Fleet, took charge. 
Captain Bucklew, who served with Rear Admiral Milton Miles's Naval 
Group China during World War II, had considerable experience in 
intelligence matters and guerrilla warfare. 

The nine-man team, officially known as the Vietnam Delta Infiltration 
Study Group, including representatives from the Pacific Fleet, the First 
Fleet, MACV, the Navy Section of the MAAG, and SEAL Team 1 , arrived 
in Vietnam in January. Based on interviews with naval advisors and their 
own observations throughout the country, the group formulated it views. 
The final Bucklew Report agreed with earlier assessments that the primary 
Communist supply route extended "from North Vietnam, via Laos and 
Cambodia, with delivery accomplished via the Ho Chi Minh trail, via 
major rivers, and by combination of man carried and inland water-borne 
transfers." It concluded, however, that the rivers in the delta probably 
were used by the Communists more for the transportation of troops than 
as avenues of infiltration of munitions. The team recognized the potential 
for sea infiltration into the area but believed that this approach was used 
mostly "for deliveries of high priority items and key cadre personnel," a 
conclusion most naval officers in Vietnam had shared for several years. '^ 

'"Ltr, Sharp to Ricketts, of 26 Dec 1963. 

"Ihid.\ Ricketts, memo for record, of 20 Jan 1964; OP-922H, Newsletter, ser H-002-64 of Jan 
1964; msgs, CTF35 270907Z Jan 1964; CP 082044Z Feb. 

'^Senior Member, Vietnam Delta Infiltration Study Group, "Report of Recommendations 
Pertaining to Infiltration into South Vietnam of Viet Cong Personnel, Supporting Materials, Weapons 
and Ammunition," ser 0076 of 15 Feb 1964 (hereafter Bucklew Report), p. 2. 

304 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

As one means of meeting the Communist threat in the Mekong Delta, 
Captain Bucklew and the members of his group recommended that a 
landing force component be assigned to the River Force for "raiding and 
pursuit" purposes. The logical forces for such a mission were the 
Vietnamese Marines. But there was resistance to this proposal by both 
Vietnamese and U.S. Army officers, who worried about interference with 
Vietnamese Army efforts in the same area. For that reason, the American 
observers considered it unlikely that a marine force would be assigned. 
They emphasized, however, that "Navy patrols are limited in effectiveness 
and vulnerable to destruction without neutralization of the shorelines."" 
Their suggestion that the navy be given increased authority in the 
Vietnamese defense structure was designed, in part, to assure the more 
effective participation of naval forces in riverine campaigns. 

With regard to coastal patrol, the report concluded that augmentation 
with resources was necessary for the Coastal Force and Sea Force to cover 
the South Vietnamese littoral completely. At the same time, it found that 
the Vietnamese surveillance effort functioned with "reasonable effective- 
ness," considering the shortage of adequate numbers of operational ships, 
craft, and junks. 

Many of Captain Bucklew's recommendations centered on improving 
coordination between various agencies of the Vietnamese government. 
For example, he observed that the activities of the Vietnamese customs 
agents and river pilots were not coordinated with any agency responsible 
for stopping infiltration. Yet, these officials had a unique opportunity to 
observe and report on possible smuggling and infiltration if requested to 
do so. 

Both Admiral Felt and General Harkins had a chance to comment on 
the Bucklew Report's recommendations and generally concurred with the 
conclusions. The report was then submitted to the Joint Chiefs, who used 
it in a comprehensive review of the U.S. Navy's role in the Vietnam 
conflict in the spring of 1964. The Bucklew Report also served as a basis 
for much of the work conducted in the naval advisory program that year 
and some of the team's recommendations were incorporated into the 
Chien Thang, or Victory Plan, which replaced Diem's discredited Strategic 
Hamlet Program on 22 February 1964. The new plan assigned first 

The Adfisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 305 

priority to operations against the Communists in the Mekong Delta and 
called for more integration of civil and military operations. 

One of the Bucklew recommendations was acted upon immediately. 
Responding to the conclusion that the Vietnamese Navy lacked a strong 
voice in strategy-making councils, on 8 April the Joint General Staff 
established the billet of Chief of Naval Operations, to replace the former 
Naval Deputy to the Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces. This position was 
filled by Captain Cang, Quyen's successor, who was promoted to the rank 
of commodore. In October 1964 Cang received a further promotion to 
rear admiral. Still, the CNO only took part in Joint General Staff 
deliberations when naval matters were discussed.''* 

Consolidation and Buildup of the Advisory Program 

One of the issues raised by McNamara upon his return to Washington 
from the Pacific in early 1964 was the possibility of streamlining the U.S. 
command organization by integrating the Military Assistance Advisory 
Group into the Military Assistance Command, which already was charged 
with coordinating the total American effort in Vietnam and advising 
senior South Vietnamese military and political authorities.'^ 

Admiral Felt opposed this reorganization. He believed that the MACV 
commander could not effectively control the large organization which 
would result from the merger of the two commands. Further, the existing 
setup allowed MACV to concentrate on the counterinsurgency effort 
without getting bogged down in the details of the Military Assistance 
Program and the direction of the growing number of field advisors. The 
admiral reported to the Joint Chiefs that "we will be unduly rocking the 
boat to no practical purpose since COMUSMACV already clearly 
exercises operational command over MA AG and advisors. """ Secretary 
McNamara, however, was not persuaded. During his trip to Saigon in 

^^Ihid.; CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, p. 356; MACV, Command History, 1964, p. 65; 
Fitzgerald, "U.S. Naval Forces in the Vietnam War," pp. 455-56; Itr, Drachnik to Ricketts, of 13 Mar 
1964; memo, JCS to SECDEF, of 1 Jul; Hardcastle, Interview; DIA, Biographic Data, "Chung Tan 
Cang," of Feb 1973; Bucklew, Interview with Fitzgerald; Bucklew, Interview with Mason, pp. 322- 

"CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, Chart I-l; MACV, Command History, 1964, pp. 3-10. 

"^Quoted in MACV, Command History, 1964, p. 10. See also msg, CP 220912Z Mar 1964. 

306 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

March, he directed General Harkins to prepare a study of the proposed 
merger for consideration by Admiral Felt and the Joint Chiefs. 

Captain Drachnik favored the reorganization, based on his observation 
of several problems resulting from the divided command. He noted that 
although operational control of the American effort in Vietnam rested 
with MACV, the MAAG allocated the Military Assistance Program 
supplies that supported operations. Since operations obviously depended 
on supply, he argued that the two functions should not be separate. 
Captain Drachnik also concluded that since the MACV commander only 
advised high-level Vietnamese officers, he functioned with little feel for 
the problems of MAAG's field advisors. The Joint Chiefs submitted a split 
opinion to the Secretary of Defense, with the Army favoring the 
consolidation and the Navy opposing it. Admiral Felt continued to doubt 
the need for the reorganization. 

Nevertheless, on 8 April McNamara approved the merger. The MAAG 
was disestablished on 1 5 May. At the same time, the Navy Section of the 
MAAG was redesignated the Naval Advisory Group, MACV, under 
Captain William H. Hardcastle, who relieved Captain Drachnik in January 
1964.'" As a result of the reorganization, the number of men authorized 
for MACV increased slightly from 3,369 to 3,677. At the beginning of the 
year the number of naval advisors in Vietnam numbered 154. But these 
figures soon increased substantially. When the Kennedy policy of phasing 
down U.S. involvement in Vietnam was set aside in 1964, the JCS 
authorized an increase of MACV advisory personnel. By the end of 1964, 
they numbered 4,889, 235 of whom were from the Navy. Additional 
supporting units attached to MACV brought the total of U.S. military 
forces in Vietnam to over 23,000 at that time. 

The eighty-one additional naval advisors who reached South Vietnam 
in 1964 were assigned primarily to field billets, although psychological 
warfare, personnel, and medical advisors also were added at the headquar- 
ters level. The twenty-one new billets for the Sea Force allowed advisors 
to ride individual ships on a regular basis in order to promote more 
aggressive patrolling. Advisors with the River Force increased from ten to 
thirty-two, which enabled the establishment of three-man detachments 
with each of the six existing RAGs, with a new assault group, and with the 

'"Hardcastle, Interview, p. 17; CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, pp. 306-08; Chart I-l, 
MACV, Command History', 1964, pp. 3-14; Drachnik, report, of 13 Mar 1964, pp. 1, 7, 9; msg, CP 
220912Z Mar 1964. 

The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 



An American naval advisor and his Vietnamese Navy counterpart. Lieutenant Mark V. 
Nelson, 1st Coastal District advisor, and Commander Phong, 1st Coastal District 
commander, on board a Coastal Force junk off Vietnam. 

308 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

River Transport Escort Group. A total of two advisors each were assigned 
to the Eastern and Western Repair Facilities. The remaining personnel 
staffed administrative positions. The assignment of additional advisors to 
the Coastal Force in 1964 enabled the stationing of two men at each of the 
junk repair facilities at Danang, Nha Trang, Cat Lo, and Rach Gia, and 
three with each of the eight advisory detachments assigned to the coastal 
districts. Besides instructing Vietnamese on ways to improve naval 
operations, the advisors now were able to provide Captain Hardcastle and 
the Military Assistance Command in Saigon with more information on the 
true situation in the field.'* 

Personnel and Training in the Vietnamese Navy 

The increase in advisors partly reflected the growth of the Vietnamese 
armed forces, the expanded support of which was authorized after 
Secretary McNamara's visit to Vietnam in March 1964. The number of 
Vietnamese Navy personnel rose from 6,467 in January to 8,162 officers 
and men in November. General Khanh's National Public Service Decree, 
signed in April 1964, which made all men between the ages of twenty and 
forty-five subject to the draft, aided the navy's recruiting program, 
although the service was manned solely by volunteers. The additional 
personnel manned the ships and craft arriving from the United States, 
raised the manning level of other units and repair facilities, and filled the 
training pipeline.'' 

The Vietnamese Navy had little trouble recruiting for the regular 
forces, but meeting the allowance for the paramilitary Coastal Force 
remained difficult. As of 1 January 1964, the Coastal Force was authorized 
6,640 men. But the force never had more than 3,700 men on board 
during the year. Desertions, which since April 1963 averaged about 100 
men each month, were the chief problem. Between May and August 
1964, only 264 men were enlisted to offset this loss. Undermanning was 
most serious in the 3rd and 4th Coastal Districts. Coastal Division 34, for 

"MACV, Command History, 1964, p. 180; U.S.-V.N. Reiatiom, bk. 3, pt. IVB.3, pp. 38-39; 
CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, pp. 317-18; Hardcastle, Interview; memo, Hardcastle to 
DEPCOMUSMACV, ser 0046 of 31 May 1964; NAG, "YNN Background Information," of May 
1964; NAG, "Historical Review of Naval Advisory Group Activities, CY1964," ser 0024 of 1 Jan 
1965 (hereafter NAG, Historical Review, 1964), p. 17; NAG, Briefing for CINCPAC, of Jul 1964. 

"NAG, Historical Review, 1964, pp. 4-5; U.S.-V.N. Relaiwm. bk. 3, pt. IVC.l, p. A-6. 

The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 309 

example, had only 40 junkmen of the 145 authorized actually on board. 
At the same time as recruiting fell behind, almost one-third of the Coastal 
Force personnel were assigned to duties other than the primary one of 
coastal patrol. Thus, the number of junks on patrol hovered around 40 
percent of the total operational force. 

As a long-term solution to the personnel shortage, U.S. advisors called 
for the formal integration of the junk force into the Vietnamese Navy. 
This step would make personnel eligible for all the benefits of the regular 
service, including higher pay and allowances, and thus enhance the 
desirability of Coastal Force service.^" Although the Joint General Staff 
expressed concern that the action would increase personnel costs and set 
an undesired precedent for the other paramilitary units in the armed 
forces, it approved the integration plan in December. During the 
following summer, the Coastal Force formally joined the Vietnamese 

The training programs set up to handle the rapid expansion of the navy 
in 1962 and 1963 began to function routinely by 1964. With the 
graduation of the Naval Academy class in October 1964, the previous 
officer shortage ended. An eight-week tour of duty with Seventh Fleet 
ships was provided to 25 percent of each class. To give refresher training 
to Vietnamese technicians in engineering, deck and gunnery procedures, 
and operational skills, U.S. advisors helped the Vietnamese set up thirty- 
five courses, varying in length from three days to four weeks, at the Naval 
Advanced Training Center in Saigon. 

The Vietnamese also continued to benefit from specialized training by 
U.S. mobile training teams. Mobile Training Team 1-65, for example, 
conducted simulated brigade-level amphibious exercises at the army's 
General Staff College in Dalat in October. Mobile Training Team 3-65, 
which deployed to Saigon for six months later in 1964, trained the 
medical staff of a Vietnamese LSM that was refitted with two medical vans 
and equipment. The ship then steamed along the coast treating offshore 
fishermen and naval personnel and their families at isolated bases. 

A restructured intelligence school in Saigon also yielded good results. 
A ten-day basic intelligence course for officers was begun late in 1963. As 
the graduates of the new program went into the field, the amount of 

^"NAG, Fact Sheet, of 27 May 1964; NAG, "Coastal Force Paramilitary Strength Figures," of 16 
Sep; NAG, Monthly Evaluation, of Aug 1964. 

^'NAG, Historical Review, 1964, p. 10; NAG, memo, ser 00121 of 16 Nov 1964. 

310 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

intelligence information submitted by operational units increased com- 
mensurately. In May 1964, the first agent net was established in order to 
collect information on infiltration into the Mekong Delta. The progress 
made in the field was not matched at the headquarters level, where 
coordination between naval intelligence officers and their army counter- 
parts was limited. 

Since most of the recruits for the Coastal Force had little education, 
special training programs were established to instruct them in technical 
subjects, such as engine maintenance and radio procedure. In January 
1964, the Engineering School was moved from Saigon to Cam Ranh Bay, 
and by the end of the year the facility had trained over 500 men in diesel 
engine maintenance. Other personnel received medical and communica- 
tions training at army schools. In March 1964, a Junk Skippers School was 
established in Nha Trang, and a Junk Division Commanders School 
opened in April at the Naval Advanced Training Center in Saigon.'' 

U.S. naval advisors further developed the Vietnamese capability for 
special warfare. The LDNN naval commando force numbered one officer 
and forty -one men at the beginning of 1964. On 20 March, however, the 
only officer and most of the enlisted men were transferred to Danang for 
special operations. When Lieutenant Franklin W. Anderson became 
advisor to the LDNN in July, he found only eleven men, all who 
remained of the first unit. After an intensive three-month screening 
process, sixty additional men were selected to augment the unit's strength. 
Training of this group began on 25 September at Nha Trang. The arduous 
sixteen-week course included "Hell Week," during which each student 
paddled a boat 115 miles, ran 75 miles, carried a boat 21 miles, and swam 
10 miles. Even before the completion of their training, team members 
participated in salvaging a sunken LCVP at Nha Trang and a downed 
Vietnamese Air Force Skyraider in Binh Duong Province. Of this group, 
thirty-three men completed their LDNN training in January 1965 and 
were based thereafter at Vung Tau, under the direct control of the 
Vietnamese Deputy Chief of Naval Operations for Operations.'^ 

"NAG, memo, ser 0181 of 10 Jun 1964; NAG, Historical Review, 1964, pp. 5-6, Annex A; 
MACV, Command History, 1964, p. 44; R.N. Channell, End of Tour Report, of 16Jun 1965; NAG, 
Fact Sheets, of 21 May 1964; 10 Jul; MTT 1-65, report, ser 1500 of 13 Nov 1964; Hardcastle, 
Interview; Itr, CHBUMED to OP-09B92, ser 38 of 11 Feb 1966. 

^'Franklin W. Anderson, Jr., End of Tour Report, of 23 Jun 1965; A3, report, of 23 Jun 1964; 
NAG, Fact Sheet, -'YNN SEAL/UDT Teams," of 8 Jun 1965. 

The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 311 

Further, the U.S. Navy continued the program to equip and train units 
of the Vietnamese Air Force begun in I960. During his visit to Saigon in 
March 1964, Secretary of Defense McNamara decided to replace all of 
the T-28s in the Vietnamese Air Force with A-IH aircraft. On 29 April a 
squadron of twenty-five A-lHs landed at Danang, ferried to Vietnam by 
pilots of the U.S. Navy. There, on the same day, a U.S. naval training 
detachment of 23 officers and 150 enlisted men from VA 152 began 
training 98 Vietnamese pilots and 277 maintenance men.^'' Before this 
detachment departed on 24 November, the Navy's Mobile Training 
Team 4-65 reached Vietnam for a six-month tour starting on 21 
September. This team concentrated on instructing Vietnamese at the Bien 
Hoa Airbase in maintenance techniques, in anticipation of the deployment 
of another A-IH squadron, due to arrive in-country early in 1965. Mobile 
training teams usually worked well with the Vietnamese, but this team, 
headed by Lieutenant (j.g.) Douglas E. Story, had a number of difficulties. 
Thus, after a month in Vietnam, Lieutenant Story reported that mainte- 
nance progress was slow, "because of the reluctance of VNAF personnel, 
both officer and enlisted, to accept advice offered by U.S. advisors. They 
seek help only when a situation becomes critical. A general lack of 
initiative and leadership is exhibited by officers and senior enlisted 
personnel."^' Nonetheless, the U.S. Navy was instrumental in providing 
the Vietnamese Air Force with equipment and training assistance that 
would be invaluable in meeting the enemy's threat. 

New Resources for the Vietnamese Navy 

In addition to training assistance, the Vietnamese Navy received new 
ships, junks, small craft, and material through the U.S. Military Assistance 
Program. The last two of the twelve specially designed MAP motor 
gunboats, programmed for delivery to Vietnam in Fiscal Year 1965, 
arrived early in 1964. One of these ships, originally destined for 
Cambodia, was diverted to Vietnam when Prince Sihanouk severed 

"Msgs, MACV 111132Z Mar 1964; JCS 181712Z; CPFLT 210159Z; CP 220028Z; 
CHMAAGVN 080809Z May; CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, pp. 318-32; MTT 4-65, report, 
of 1 Dec 1964. 

"MTT 4-65, report, of 1 Dec 1964. See also CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, pp. 318-22; 
msg, CHMAAGVN 080809Z May 1964. 

312 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

economic and military ties with the United States in November 1963. The 
only other seagoing ships which the Vietnamese received during 1964 
were two fleet minesweepers, Serene (MSF-300) and Shelter (MSF-301), 
which were converted to escorts (PCE) before their assignment to the Sea 
Force. With the arrival of the MSFs and PGMs, the upgrading and 
expansion program for the Vietnamese Sea Force, begun as a result of 
U.S. decisions in 1961, was complete. At the end of 1964 the Sea Force 
comprised forty-four seagoing ships. 

Military assistance funds were also used to upgrade the junks in the 
Coastal Force. Poor quality control on the first U.S. -contracted boats was 
revealed in the breakdown of many junks in 1964. Captain Hardcastle 
explained the problem in these words: "These had been built on a crash 
program by, to say the least, incompetent house carpenters. They were 
built of green [wood] and after the wood dried out, I have seen junks with 
seams open that were about three-fourths of an inch. It was just terrible."^'' 
In addition, the original boats proved highly susceptible to teredo worms, 
a marine borer which riddled wooden hulls, particularly in the Gulf of 

Captain Hardcastle suspected that many of the junks which the 
Vietnamese reported operational were in fact beyond economical repair 
and in May 1964 he directed a survey team from the Navy Section to 
make an accounting of the junk force's material condition. The team 
found that of the 644 junks planned in 1962 for construction, 12 were 
never built, 16 were lost at sea, and 13 were scrapped because they were 
beyond feasible repair. Of the remaining 603 junks, 378 were operable, 
174 were laid up but repairable, and 51 were not worth repairing. With 
an effective fleet of only 552 junks and an optimum 50 percent utilization 
rate, the Coastal Force had no hope of deploying junks at the ideal spacing 
of one for every two miles of coast. 

Many of the craft in poor condition were the sailing junks, which were 
the subject of constant complaint by Coastal Force advisors. This type was 
particularly unsuited to duty in the Gulf of Siam where most of the civilian 
junks were motorized and therefore faster. In addition, it was difficult for 
the cumbersome and slow sailing junks to avoid ambush by the Viet Cong, 
who controlled much of the coastline in that area. Attempts to install 

^'^Hardcastle, Interview, p. 32. 

The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 313 

engines in the sailing junks proved unsatisfactory because that step 
required the virtual rebuilding of the junk. 

Despite the problems with existing vessels, the Bucklew Report 
recommended expanding the junk fleet. The new COMUSMACV, 
General William C. Westmoreland, USA, on the other hand, demurred, 
concluding that the Vietnamese did not have the ability to man a larger 
number of units. After reviewing a similar proposal for expansion at the 
end of the year, Captain Hardcastle reaffirmed the general's conclusion: 

Based upon the past multitude of problems which has faced the Coastal 
Force and the dismal outlook for any significant improvement, it is not 
considered appropriate to further compound the problems by increasing 
the number of junks in the Coastal Force at this time.^^ 

The captain determined that new construction should be directed only at 
replacing the sailing junks and that no new programs should be initiated 
until operational and support problems were solved. A Naval Advisory 
Group staff study completed at the end of May concluded that ninety new 
motorized junks were required to replace lost and surveyed junks and to 
allow the deployment of patrol units spaced at five-mile intervals north of 
Vung Tau and at three-mile intervals south of that port. 

The prototype junk selected for construction was a 57-foot boat with a 
fiberglassed wooden hull, one of which had been built in 1961 from the 
design of a Japanese engineer, Mr. Yabuta, at the Saigon Naval Shipyard. 
CINCPAC approved funding for ninety of these craft in the Fiscal Year 
1965 Military Assistance Program budget and Admiral Gang enthusiasti- 
cally approved construction of the craft in the Saigon shipyard. The 
program began in October 1964, with all the boats scheduled for 
completion within one year.^^ Captain Hardcastle later cited the Yabuta 
program as one of the outstanding achievements of the advisory effort. He 
explained: "You get the Vietnamese in on the ground roots of planning. 
Let them have a part in it, and if they believe in it, they are going to 
succeed and they are capable." The Vietnamese had never mass-produced 
anything in the shipyard, but they assimilated the new techniques and 
fulfilled all of their commitments. An American advisor coordinated the 

"Hardcastle, memo for record, of 17 Dec 1964. See also Richard Knapp, End ofTour Report, of 2 
Oct 1964. 

^"Msg, CP 190050Z Mar 1964. 

314 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

project, but the Vietnamese did the work. Captain Hardcastle concluded: 
"They did a beautiful job."^'' 

To the disappointment of U.S. advisors, however, the total strength of 
the Coastal Force actually decreased in 1964. At the end of the year, the 
1st Coastal District advisor. Lieutenant Robert C. Perkins, reported: 

The trend is more and more junks out of commission (55 this week with 
1 1 at the Navy Base). Even though the repair effort was improved, I 
expect this figure to increase. The same old story, too much time 
required for repairs and poor quality hull work in the past, and we still 
have a long way to go in improving hull work.^° 

By the beginning of 1965, there were 81 command junks, 91 combination 
motor-sail junks, 120 motorized junks, and 239 sailing junks distributed 
among twenty-eight bases on South Vietnam's coast." 

In addition to the Yabuta, Captain Hardcastle gave consideration to 
obtaining a steel-hulled craft requiring less maintenance and offering a 
longer useful life than the wooden-hulled junks. The Chief of the 
Advanced Research Projects Agency's field unit in Vietnam was sympa- 
thetic to Captain Hardcastle's request for an evaluation of such a vessel. 
He commented: 

The concept of the Junk Force was a stop-gap quick fix at best. At a time 
when the Army of Vietnam is using Ml 13 Armored Personnel Carriers 
and the Air Force is using AlH Skyraiders, the Navy of Vietnam is 
attempting to patrol its coast with craft which might have held their own 
in the Battle of Salamis.^^ 

The most promising type was the landing craft, personnel, large (LCPL), 
which could be armed with one 50-caliber and two 30-caliber machine 
guns. Four LCPLs, representing the U.S. Navy's entire active stock, were 
added to the Fiscal Year 1965 Military Assistance Program. By that time, 
however, the United States began deploying American-made Swift units 

^'Hardcastle, Interview, pp. 35-36. See also Bang Cao Thang, Interview, pp. 9-12; Tanh Nguon 
Lam, transcript of interview with Oscar P. Fitzgerald, Naval Historical Center, in Fall River, MA, 14 
Apr 1976, pp. 4-5. 

'"1st Coastal District Advisor, SITREP, of 10 Dec 1964. 

''OP-324, Staff Study, of 1 Jan 1965. 

'^Memo, Director, ARPA Field Unit, Vietnam, to Director for Remote Area Conflict, of 14 Nov 

The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 


Coastal Force Dispositions, January 1965 

316 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

along the coast. Their presence obviated the need for LCPLs with the 
Coastal Force." 

To strengthen the River Force in the critical Mekong Delta region, on 
17 March 1964, President Johnson approved use of MAP funds to create 
a seventh river assault group. Secretary of Defense McNamara first raised 
the possibility of another Vietnamese RAG during his visit to Vietnam in 
December 1963. Initially, Admiral Felt and Captain Drachnik opposed 
creation of the unit because of the low operational rates of existing RAGs. 
General Harkins, however, eventually persuaded the naval officers that 
the shift of a Vietnamese Army division from the northern provinces to 
the delta and an expanded river patrol mission demanded a net increase in 
riverine forces. 

When established in early 1965, the unit, designated the 27th River 
Assault Group, was composed of fourteen U.S. -built river patrol craft 
(RPC), six LCM-8s, a commandament, and a monitor. The LCM-8 was 
selected rather than the LCM-6, which was standard in earlier RAGs, 
because it could carry the new M-1 13 armored personnel carriers used by 
some army units in the delta. The RPC, a 36-foot craft, was designed by 
the Bureau of Ships to replace the French-built STCAN. The RPC's 15- 
knot speed was nearly twice as fast as the STCAN and its cruising range of 
200 miles was four times that of the old French boat.'^ 

Additional measures to increase the resources of the River Force 
included augmentation of two existing RAGs with 2 commandaments, 4 
monitors, 12 LCMs, and 6 river patrol craft and the transfer from the 
condensed River Transport Escort Group to combat units of 12 STCANs. 
The latter craft were especially suited to assault operations, since their V- 
shaped hulls lessened mine damage and their pointed bows, when wedged 
in mudbanks, held well against the current for the debarking of troops. ^^ 

"Hardcastle, Interview; CINCPAC. Command History, 1964, pp. 314, 357-58; NAG, Historical 
Review, 1964, pp. 4-5, 13; Drachnik. Interview with Fitzgerald; Bucklew Report; NAG, Monthly 
Evaluation, Sep 1964; msgs, CP 190050Z Mar 1964; 220002Z; 242155Z; MAAG, '■Revision of 
RVN Military Assistance Program Review, " of 15 Nov 1963; Itrs, CHNAG to J. L. Ashcroft, ser 
0055 of 10 Jun 1964; CHNAG to COMUSMACV, of 24 Jun; Hardcastle, memo for record, of 17 
Dec 1964; memo, DCNO (Plans and Policy) to CNO, ser 00269-64 of 24 Dec; NAG, "VN Navy 
Background Information;" Itrs, J. L. Ashcroft to CHNAG, of 30 May 1964; Chung Tan Cang to 
CICRVNAF, of 1964; OP-324, Staff Study, "Number of Junks Required in the Coastal Force to 
Provide Effective Surveillance." of 1 Jan 1965. 

'''Gray, ei ai, "Revolutionary Warfare on Inland Waterways," pp. 264, 279; CHNAG, Briefing, 
"The Vietnamese Navy and Vietnamese Marine Corps," of 30 Jun 1964. 

"Msg, CP 220002Z Mar 1964; NAG, Staff Study, "Requirements for Additional VNN River 
Assault Group," of 9 Apr 1964 in "VN Navy Background Information;" Itr, CHNAG to CO VNN, 

The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 317 

MACV's Joint Research and Test Activity, an organization established 
in Vietnam in April 1964, and composed of American military and civilian 
personnel, worked to provide the Vietnamese with craft, weapons, and 
material best suited to combat in the riverine environment. Although the 
widespread introduction of the helicopter by the end of 1964 lessened the 
requirement for them, the activity tested several potentially useful air 
boats in the Rung Sat swamp. Another craft, the 14-foot marsh screw, was 
evaluated in the United States in late 1964. Propelled by two rotating 
pontoons with spiralled tracks, the amphibian could cross flooded plains 
and climb muddy river banks. The Naval Advisory Group was asked to 
comment on the new boat and decide if it should be tested in Vietnam. 
Lieutenant Commander Thomas F. Wooten, a River Force advisor, 
described the reaction to the proposal: 

We didn't like it. We didn't think it had any function. We thought it was 
just one more thing to put in-country that we really didn't have any 
great need for . . . .They didn't need anything else. They had enough 
trouble running and operating the equipment they had. So the thought 
was to keep the exotic equipment out.^*^ 

The development of the marsh screw for Vietnam was not pursued. 

Another in-country group, the Advanced Research Projects Agency, 
studied techniques to counter Viet Cong mining incidents, which aver- 
aged about three per month in 1964. To support this effort, the Navy's 
Mine Defense Laboratory at Panama City, Florida, developed improved 
sweeping devices. Tests conducted in Vietnam in March 1964 found that 
one particular chain sweep was effective against bottom mines. The 
anchor-drag system was less useful because the anchor tended to bounce 
along the river bottom, skipping over some mines. Twenty-one detection 
sonars also were programmed for delivery to the RAGs during the year. 

Other equipment considered by the testing activities included various 
radars, infrared sniper scopes, night image intensifiers, and anti-ambush 
weapons for use with the River Force. Some concepts, such as the rigging 
of boats with Claymore mines, proved too dangerous or impractical. More 
effective against ambush was the shoulder-fired M-79 grenade launcher, 

ser 0374 of 7 Dec 1964; CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, pp. 358-59; U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 3, 
pt. IVC.l, pp. 15, 46. 

''T'homas F. Wooten, transcript of interview with Oscar P. Fitzgerald, Naval Historical Centr, in 
Little Creek, VA, 23 Apr 1975, pp. 29-30. 

318 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

100 of which were distributed to the River Force beginning in August 
1964. This weapon, with its high trajectory, could lob grenades over the 
high river banks which lined many delta waterways.'^ 

Material Readiness Improvements 

A major thrust of the Buckiew Report was to enhance the readiness of 
the Vietnamese Navy's units by improving maintenance, repair, and 
supply. The report reaffirmed what advisors already knew — that these 
were major weaknesses of the Vietnamese Navy. American advisors 
reported that many Vietnamese line officers believed they should not be 
concerned with maintenance or repair. As a result, the facilities at the 
Saigon Naval Shipyard were overloaded with minor preventive mainte- 
nance work. Fully half of the shipyard's jobs involved unscheduled work. 
The remainder constituted regularly scheduled overhauls, 150 of which 
the yard completed for the Sea Force and River Force in 1964. 

While U.S. advisors tried, with mixed results, to change Vietnamese 
attitudes, they had more success expanding the physical plant of the 
Saigon shipyard, such as the establishment of a spare-engine shop in 1964 
and an apprentice school, in January 1965, which promised to expand the 
limited pool of semi-skilled labor. Specialized training in hull fabrication, 
and other specialized shop practices was provided by Mobile Training 
Team 7-64. Mobile Training Team 2-65 instructed technicians at the 
gyrocompass repair shop. At the end of the year, U.S. advisors could point 
to a more skilled work force and better management at the higher levels, 
although mid-level supervision remained a problem. 

The shipyard was the largest customer of the Vietnamese Navy's supply 
center. That center operated more smoothly once a thorough inventory 
allowed disposal of excess stocks by October 1964. A program to package 
engine and electronic parts, in order to preserve them from deterioration 

'^Msg, COMUSMACV 100151ZJun 1964; Advisory Board, report, "Long Tau Soirap River Area 
Security," end. 9; Joint Research and Test Activity, Third Semi-Annual Report, 1 Jan-30 Jun 1965; 
First Semi-Annual Report, 1 Jan-30 Jun 1964; Wooten, Interview; NAG, Historical Review, 1964, p. 
9; msg, CP 180140Z Dec 1964; ARPA, "Riverine Minecountermeasures in Vietnam, 1964," of 15 
Apr 1964, pp. 30-31, 109; Itrs, Senior River Force Advisor to CHNAG, ser 22-64 of 6 Mar; NAG, 
ser 0042 of 22 May. 

The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 319 

in the tropical climate, continued throughout the year. Still, the work of 
the center was hindered by a dearth of qualified personnel. For example, 
at the beginning of 1964 the facility had only 97 of its authorized 164 
enlisted storekeepers. 

The new PGMs presented a particularly difficult supply problem. The 
ships used 2 types of main engine, 3 types of generators, and 2 types each 
of fresh water pumps and air compressors. Spare parts for the Mercedes- 
Benz main engines were not in the U.S. Navy's supply system. The 
Bureau of Ships sent a five-man team to Vietnam in September to assess 
the problem and, as a result, the Navy established a direct supply line for 
engine parts between Vietnam and the Navy Purchasing Office in 
London. This direct link and the stocking of spares at Subic reduced to 
four weeks the previous two-to-four month delay in receiving parts. 

Separate repair facilities in the coastal districts served the Coastal Force. 
In January, after spending three months training junkmen in maintenance 
and logistic procedures. Mobile Training Team 2-64 helped establish a 
new repair facility at Rach Gia. Upon completion of the team's work, in 
March, each coastal district had a junk repair facility. During 1964, each 
yard received a mobile, thirty-ton crane capable of handling junks needing 
repair. The Vietnamese completed the renovation of the Eastern Repair 
Facility at Cuu Long, which had been in limited operation since 1962. 

The Coastal Force also opened repair parts depots at Rach Gia and An 
Thoi in May, similar to facilities already in operation at Danang, Nha 
Trang, and Vung Tau. But supplying these depots from Saigon was 
difficult. After the November 1963 coup against Diem, a fleet of trawlers, 
formerly owned by Diem's sister-in-law, Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu, was 
taken over by the new government. Two of these 30-meter vessels were 
turned over to the junk force. By October 1964 they carried repair teams, 
generators, engines, and fuel to the isolated coastal bases. Hence, Sea 
Force LSMs, which formerly made the runs, were freed for other duty.'^ 

'*NAG, Historical Review, 1964, pp. 6-8, 12; End of Tour Reports, Evenson M. Burtis, of 24 Jun 
1964; Donald A. Still, of 8 Aug; J.P. Tyson, of 5 Feb 1965; W. F. Calloway, of 12 Jan; LeRoy R. 
Hagey, of 30 Mar; Completion Repons, MTT 2-64, n.d.; MTT 7-64, of 15 May 1964; MTT 2-65, ser 
2141-100 of 15 Dec; NAG, Fact Sheets, of 6 Jan 1964; 27 May; 7 Oct; NAG, "Country Logistics 
Improvement Plan," of 13 Jan 1964; NAG, "Summary of Military Assistance Advisory Effort," 27 
Dec 1964-2 Jan 1965, ser 08 of 6 Jan 1965; CHNAG, memo, ser 0065 of 6 Jul 1964; Itr, CHNAG to 
CO VNN, ser 761 of 8 Jul; msgs, COMUSMACV 1201 lOZ Sep; Gray et al., "Revolutionary Warfare 
on Inland Waterways," pp. 59-60. 

320 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

The An Xuyen Quarantine 

As directed by the South Vietnamese Victory Plan, and in line with 
recommendations of the Bucklew Report, the navy mounted a major 
effort during 1964 to inhibit Communist movement in the Gulf of Siam 
and off the Mekong Delta coast, especially around the southernmost 
province of An Xuyen. Credible intelligence reports indicated that Viet 
Cong arms, ammunition, and supplies were moving from the Cambodian 
border area to offshore islands, primarily Phu Quoc, and then to the coast 
of An Xuyen and Kien Giang Provinces. In January 1964, the Vietnamese 
Navy initiated an operation, soon known as the An Xuyen Quarantine, to 
interdict this Communist traffic. Routinely, the patrol force consisted of 1- 
3 PCEs, 1 LSIL, and 4 PGMs (except during the heavy weather of the 
southwest monsoon) and 70 junks from eight coastal divisions. An AKL or 
YOG periodically replenished the patrol force. 

American destroyers Philip (DD-498), Lyman K. Swenson, and Berkeley 
(DDG-15) steamed with Vietnamese units in the Gulf of Siam on several 
occasions during the year and SP-2 patrol aircraft from Tan Son Nhut 
Airfield and from Vung Tau flew a number of coastal surveillance 
missions in support of the An Xuyen Quarantine. These were only short, 
one-time operations, however. The coastal patrol effort was the primary 
responsibility of the Vietnamese Navy and its ships and craft. ^' 

The An Xuyen Quarantine area consisted of a small sector around 
Panjang Island, which was patrolled by one junk division, and three major 
sectors — the waters off the northwestern coast of An Xuyen Province, 
Phu Quoc Island, and the Camau Peninsula. The Sea Force ships were 
usually distributed equally among the latter three areas. Each patrol ship 
operated with several junks drawn from coastal divisions based in the Gulf 
of Siam. Junks patrolled inshore in groups of at least two or three, while 
Sea Force ships patrolled up to ten miles out to sea. The larger units used 
their communications, radar, and firepower for long-range surveillance 
and gunfire support and for vectoring Coastal Force junks to suspicious 
contacts. Although assigned to a specific station. Sea Force ships had 

*'NAG, Historical Review, 1964, p. 16; NAG, Briefing, 8-14 Nov 1964; Naval Advisory Board, 
"An Xuyen Quarantine," end. 5, p. 5; Naval History Division, "History of U.S. Naval Operations in 
the Vietnam Conflict, 1965-1967," unpublished history in Naval Historical Center, 1971, pt. 1, p. 
230; msgs, CP 082044Z Feb 1964; CPFLT 152159Z; COMDESRON9 020300Z May. 

The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 



1 1 



I-r>, ^°''° 





Cambodia | 




11^ — 

=;p;yN\ Islands 
Cua Can^^r j y^ 

, / 

v^^^Ha Tien 

Mekong Delta 






DupngVf /)/' 

\ y^^^ l/Hon Dat Hill >^ 

■«'-— ^=:::a; 


Ham ^"~~- 

Dong .\ / 

Ly \z^ . -^ 



, Luon^g 

^U An Thoi 
—10° Phu Quoc ? 

Balua Islands ^^\ 

Can Tho^A 
Rach Gia 



s^v Ri"ver / 

Island i 

Minh Hoa /^en An 



Island /^ 

\ Cai Lon 






\ River 


Nam Du / 



^^\ / 


Bien Nh 





^^'Panjang Island 



— 9° 

Ong Doc 1 jX 
River y^ 



Gulf of 

Cape 5:^^^^-^^ 

/Bo De River 


Son Island^ 


South China 


Khoal Island 





Area of the An Xuyen Quarantine 

orders to make random cruises along the coast to establish the govern- 
ment's presence. 

The senior Sea Force commander assigned to the operation served as 
the officer in tactical control. From his ship he commanded the numerous 
junks and other patrolling vessels. Bypassing the IV Naval Zone 
commander and the Coastal Force district commanders, he reported 
directly to the Operations Officer (N-3) on the Vietnamese CNO's staff. 
However, this arrangement proved fauky because the commander often 
was isolated from his command while at sea. Further, Sea Force ships and 
their officers were rotated every month, disrupting command continuity. 

322 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Finally, on 16 December 1964, partly as a result of recommendations by 
American naval advisor^, the command structure was reorganized. Hence, 
the 4th Coastal District commander based ashore at An Thoi was assigned 
operational control of the An Xuyen Quarantine under the IV Naval 
Zone commander.'*" 

The quarantine employed several tactics to interdict infiltration. A 
restricted zone was established five kilometers to sea, along most of the 
northwestern coast of An Xuyen Province, where boats and fishing junks 
were forbidden to operate. The restricted zones were expanded in June to 
include most of the western coast of the Camau Peninsula and the 
northern coast of Phu Quoc Island. From a military point of view, the 
concept made sense, and American naval advisors favored it. But to 
exclude fishermen from economically vital areas was politically difficult. 
As a result, the Vietnamese did not enforce the ban. 

A similar fate befell the tactic of creating free-fire zones in Viet Cong- 
controlled territory. During 1964 the Vietnamese established only one 
such zone, at the tip of the Camau Peninsula. Hence, ships in that area 
could conduct harassing fire without permission. The Bucklew Report 
recommended expansion of the concept; and U.S. advisors studying the 
An Xuyen Quarantine identified the Viet Cong-controlled coastline 
between Ha Tien and Rach Gia, the northern coast of Phu Quoc, and the 
coast of An Xuyen from Kien An to the mouth of the Bo De River as 
other promising areas for free-fire zones. Admiral Felt, however, recog- 
nized that such an indiscriminate policy might alienate friendly civilians. 
The Vietnamese shared these concerns and declined to so designate these 

While there was only one free-fire zone. Sea Force ships often carried 
out previously approved shore bombardment missions. Since none of the 
sixteen Sea Force ships with 3-inch/50-caliber guns possessed modern 
fire-control systems, the fire was often inaccurate, especially during 
indirect fire missions, when target spotting was difficult. To improve 
indirect fire techniques, in October U.S. advisors recommended proce- 
dures for air-spotted and preplotted missions, which produced excellent 
results for the Vietnamese in exercises conducted during the month. 

"•"Memo, Senior Junk Force Advisor to Senior Forces Advisor, of 29 May 1964. See also Itr, A34.6 
to A34, of 7 Jul; W. A. Hoch, End of Tour Report, 1 Jul 1964.; Naval Advisory Board, "An Xuyen 
Quarantine," end. 3, p. 1; end. 4, pp. 1-2; 3rd Coastal District Advisor, Action Report, of 22 Apr 

The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 323 

The April cruise of Command Junk 47 1 was typical of operations in the 
Gulf of Siam during 1964. It involved the boarding of 150 junks and 
sampans, during which the crew checked identification papers of Vietnam- 
ese seafarers, searched for contraband, and detained suspects, whom they 
turned over to provincial officials for further investigation. The junk 
operated at three separate check points, one near Phu Quoc Island, 
another in the Balua Island chain, and a third at the mouth of the Cai Lon 
River, without finding enemy contraband. Then, toward the end of the 
patrol, on 14 April, the junk chased and fired on a 40-foot fishing boat 
fleeing toward the beach. When the Viet Cong returned fire from 
entrenched shore positions, the junkmen withdrew and called in air 
strikes. The next day, the command junk discovered several men 
transferring food and clothing from a boat to a small sampan in the Ben 
Nhi Canal. Three men escaped in the sampan, but the junk crew captured 
the suspicious boat and turned it over to Coastal Division 43 headquar- 

While coastal and open-sea patrol was the primary responsibility of the 
units in the An Xuyen operation, naval gunfire support of friendly forces 
afloat and ashore also was important. In one instance, in January 1964, 
PCE Chi Lang II (HQ-08) bombarded enemy shore defenses from which 
four Coastal Division 43 junks drew fire. In July, another Sea Force ship, 
this time a PGM, silenced enemy gunners who attacked Coastal Division 
44 units from positions on Hon Dat Hill northwest of Rach Gia. The 
following month, just after midnight on the 27th, an LSIL used its 81- 
millimeter mortar and machine guns to drive off a Viet Cong company 
that attacked the Coastal Division 34 base at the mouth of the Ham Luong 

"Msg, COMUSMACV 170525Z Jan 1964; R.P.W. Murphy and E.F. Black, "The South 
Vietnamese Navy," USNIP, Vol. 90 (Jan 1964), p. 60; NAG, "Vietnamese Navy's Role in the 
Counterinsurgency," of 12 Jun 1964; 3rd Coastal District Advisor, Action Report, of 22 Apr 1964. 

"'^W. A. Hoch, End of Tour Report, of 1 Jul 1964; Itr, Coastal Force Advisory Detachment 6 to 
CHNAG, of Mar 1965; Advisory Board to Study Critical Operations, "An Xuyen Quarantine 
Operation," of 31 Dec 1964; NAG, Briefing, 8-14 Nov 1964; NAG, Monthly Evaluations, 1964; 
msg, COMUSMACV 10101 IZ Aug 1964; Naval History Division, "History of U.S. Naval 
Operations Vietnam, 1964," of 22 Jan 1970, p. 182; NAG, "Progress 12-18 April 1964;" NAG, 
"Progress 14-20 June 1964;" memo, CHNAG to COMUSMACV, ser 0069 of 9 Jul 1964; Advisory 
Board, "An Xuyen Quarantine," end. 5, p. 13; NAG, Historical Review, 1964, pp. 11, 16; Itr, 
Hardcastle to Commanding General U.S. Army Support Command, ser 0173 of 4 Jun 1964; NAG, 
Monthly Evaluations, 1964; Gordon E. Abercrombie, End of Tour Report, of 8 Apr 1965; Buckiew 
Report; VNN OPORD of 3 Jan 1964; msgs, CP 030513ZJul 1964; COMUSMACV 131221Z; 
071023Z Sep. 

324 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

Vietnamese naval forces also were charged with civic action duties, as 
the April patrol of Command Junk 471 off An Xuyen demonstrated. After 
each junk search was completed, the Vietnamese sailors distributed 
matches, magazines, soap, calendars, an medicine. Moreover, they called 
at a number of islands off the west coast of An Xuyen, where no 
government representative had visited for years. On 3 April, in the Pirate 
Island group, the boat's corpsman held sick call for 300 people from eight 
surrounding islands. Three days later, at Minh Hoa Island, the corpsman 
set up a medical station, one of five established during the patrol, and 
trained the local village teacher in first aid. During its entire patrol the 
junk's crew treated 5,000 people, showed movies to another 5,000, and 
distributed 200 pounds of candy and 100 articles of clothing. 

Although these missions were important, the success of the An Xuyen 
campaign depended on effective ocean patrolling and in this the Vietnam- 
ese naval force was deficient. At the beginning of 1964, Lieutenant Hoch, 
the 4th Coastal District advisor, found most of the Coastal Force junks "in 
port or hiding behind islands." He added that he "put them at sea but am 
sure that they returned as soon as I got out of sight." He further 
concluded that "the Sea Force if anything is worse."'*' Apparently, little 
had changed by October when Captain Hardcastle reported that "it 
appears that patrol ships are almost always not in their patrol areas and 
almost all are anchored.'"*"* Lieutenant Donald C. Schroder, another 
Coastal Force advisor, was more optimistic regarding the operational 
performance of the junk units as well as the effectiveness of the command 
structure. However, his overall appraisal of the military situation in the 
Mekong Delta coastal regions at the end of 1964 was less sanguine. He 
commented that "in speaking of VC controlled areas, I have seen a 
gradual loss of land and waterways to the VC in the last several months, 
and the war effort has gradually gone down hill."^' 

Through the end of 1964, the naval task force in the Gulf of Siam 
searched 211,121 junks, of which 316 were seized as suspected enemy 
craft. The South Vietnamese sailors conducted identity searches of 
889,335 persons during the year. Of this number, 1,938 persons were 
detained for further interrogation. But this great effort notwithstanding, 

•''Msg, Coastal District Phu Quoc 091630H Feb 1964. 

■"•Memo, Hardcastle to A-10, of 20 Oct 1964. See also CHNAG, Briefing for MAAG Senior 
Advisors Conference, of May 1964. 

■*■ Donald C. Schroder, End of Tour Report, of 14 Jan 1965. 

The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 325 

only 1 1 individuals were confirmed as Viet Cong. U.S. naval officers 
suspected that some enemy craft evaded the blockade and delivered their 
cargo ashore, especially at night. But the magnitude of the South 
Vietnamese coastal patrol effort and the meager results convinced many 
U.S. advisors that significant infiltration was not occurring. Lieutenant 
Hoch reported, after eighteen months as an advisor in the Camau 
Peninsula area, long a Communist stronghold, that he found no evidence 
of intense enemy waterborne movement. He shared the belief held by 
many U.S. naval advisors that, with control of much of the delta's land 
routes and virtual freedom of navigation on the area's innumerable 
waterways, the Communists had no real need to use the sea route from 

Mekong Delta Operations 

Coincident with the patrol operation to limit enemy movement along 
the Mekong Delta coast, the Vietnamese Navy stepped up its efforts to 
counter the Communist threat to the strategically vital interior. The 
Vietnamese Navy's operations in this region during 1964 increasingly 
were focused on the river patrol mission rather than the army-navy assault 
role. This new emphasis resulted from recognition by Vietnamese naval 
leaders, as well as Admiral Felt, Captain Hardcastle, and the Bucklew 
group, that the Vietnamese Navy's resources had not been efficiently 
employed in the past by the army command. Many army leaders 
understood little of naval tactics and were reluctant to assign ground 
troops for riverine missions. But along the narrow, heavily foliated canals 
and rivers of the delta, they were essential for protecting the naval craft. 
Despite U.S. and Vietnamese Navy recommendations that marines or 
paramilitary troop units be assigned permanently to the river assault 
groups, however, the army-dominated Joint General Staff did not concur. 
As a result, a vigorous joint riverine campaign was not realized. 

To avoid idling units, the navy's River Force increasingly deployed 
combat craft on the major waterways in search of Communist infiltrators. 
The pattern of these operations was revealed on a typical day in February 
1964, when 32 of the 67 operational River Force ships and craft were on 

^W. A. Hoch, End of Tour Report, of 1 Jul 1964. 

326 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

patrol while 7 supported ground actions. Convoy escort occupied 1 1 
others; 7 were stationed in the Saigon area; 4 were assigned to province 
chiefs; and 6 were engaged in training exercises. Each day during the last 
week in June, an average of 28 vessels conducted patrols while 10 
supported the army. By October, only 8 percent of River Force units 
carried out assault actions with ground troops. ""^ Despite the concentration 
on patrolling, the River Force uncovered little enemy contraband or 
personnel. During 1964, the naval force searched 993 junks, 40 of which 
were held for further inspection. 3,620 persons were checked for 
identification and 190 were detained. Only 12 Viet Cong were identi- 

In addition to patrols, the navy mounted operations with units from 
each of its three combat components and the army in critical sectors of the 
delta, such as the area around the mouths of the Mekong River. The 
Bucklew Report suggested strengthening patrols in this area and the 
establishment of stringent curfews on civilian boat traffic, the latter a 
politically unpopular measure. During April, after urging by U.S. 
advisors, the Vietnamese government reluctantly approved plans for a 
curfew for parts of the major rivers in the delta and the inshore waterways 
of Ba Xuyen and Vinh Binh Provinces. The plans designated a large 
curfew zone fifteen kilometers off the coast, where any boat could be 
attacked without warning. Fishing boats were allowed along the Ba Xuyen 
coast, from the shoreline to three kilometers seaward, only if they showed 
running lights. On 8 April, the curfew went into effect on the Co Chien 
River, at the mouth of the Bassac, and on the Mekong near Cao Lanh at 
the Cambodian border.^' 

Although the Vietnamese River Force had primary responsibility for 
enforcing inland curfews. Sea Force ships assisted with gunfire support, 
river mouth blockade, and the transportation of combat troops and 

""^David J. Anthony, End of Tour Report, of 16 Mar 1965; FJ. Barnes, III, End of Tour Report, of 
17 Jun 1965; David N. Orrik, End of Tour Report, of 26 Mar 1965; Itrs, Gang to CICRVNAF; NAG, 
ser 1 166 of 9 Oct 1964; Bucklew Report; memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM000954-64 of 29 Jun. James 
W. Johnson, Rirer and Canal Ambush Prohlerm. Repuhhc oj Vietnam. 1962, Washington: (Research 
Analysis Corporation Study, 1963), pp. 47-48; NAG, "Waterway Barricades;" NAG, Monthly 
Evaluation Report, Oct 1964; msgs, COMUSMACV 290955ZJun 1964. Wootten, Interview, p. 1 1; 
T. T. Beattie, Jr., End of Tour Report, of 16 Dec 1964. 

^'*MACV, Weekly Reports, 1964; NAG, "Vietnamese Navy's Role in the Counterinsurgency," of 
12 Jun 1964. 

■"Msg, COMUSMACV 140127Z Apr 1964; Charles J. Timmes, Debriefing Report, of 10 Jun 

The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 327 

supplies. In November, the success of these operations led the Naval 
Advisory Group chief, Captain Hardcastle, to urge the South Vietnamese 
to expand the Sea Force role there. As a result, three ships were 
permanently assigned to the river mouth patroP° 

Units of the Vietnamese Navy occasionally raided Viet Cong bases in 
the same area. Representative of this action was Operation Sea Dog, a 
joint army-navy effort which was commanded personally by the Chief of 
Staff of the Vietnamese Navy. It began on 4 January 1964, when LST Cam 
Rank, PGM Pbu Dti (HQ-600), and LSIL Than Tien (HQ-328) sailed 
from Saigon for My Tho, where the LST embarked an army battalion. At 
0600 on 6 January, the LST reached Ilo Ilo Island at the mouth of the My 
Tho River and bombarded landing beaches while the troops boarded six 
landing craft for an assault. The soldiers secured their objective, despite 
antipersonnel mines and enemy fire, and during the next two days 
destroyed a Viet Cong medical training center and two munitions 
factories. Naval commandos, the LDNN, destroyed six Viet Cong junks. 
Amphibious ships and Coastal Force junks supporting the Ilo Ilo assault 
blockaded the island. The LSIL fired 81 -millimeter mortars, while an LCM 
picked up captured equipment or ferried water to the beach for the thirsty 
troops. The six junks of Coastal Division 33 searched twelve boats and 
sank nineteen others. Vectored by the LSIL to suspicious craft, four River 
Force STCANs searched ten of the boats. Of the estimated thirty Viet 
Cong on the island, one was killed and one was wounded. The rest evaded 
the sweep. 

The secondary mission of the operation was to relocate the population 
of Ilo Ilo to the mainland. On 7 January a psychological warfare team 
explained the relocation plan to the people. The group of fifty-one men, 
women, and children was then transported in the LST to the mainland 
where they received food and money to help them reestablish their new 
homes. The navy's ships blockaded the island for three more days, 
broadcasting propaganda and distributing leaflets to convince the remain- 
ing Viet Cong to surrender. Finally, on the 11th, the ships withdrew.'' 

In addition to the Mekong River mouth area. South Vietnamese naval 
forces were also concerned with securing the approaches to Saigon, as part 

"NAG, ■•Briefing Given General Westmoreland," ser 00121 of 16 Nov 1964. 
^'Operating Forces Advisor, Action Report, "Operation Sea Dog I Phase I, 6-8 Jan 1964," of 12 
Jan 1964. 


United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 





Than Tien 





Cam Ranh 


Joint Operation at llo llo Island 

of a general strategy to secure the provinces around the capital. Ships 
bound for the capital passed Vung Tau, on a peninsula at the mouth of the 
ship channel, and followed forty-six miles of winding river to the city. The 
Long Tau River was one of many rivers which traversed the Rung Sat, a 
thirty by thirty-five kilometer mangrove swamp at the northeastern edge 
of the Mekong Delta. The Rung Sat was both a haven for an estimated 
200 local Viet Cong and a rest area for neighboring Communist units. 

On 15 April 1964, the responsibility for securing this strategic area was 
transferred from the army to the navy. General Khanh felt that the army 
had not devoted enough attention to this region. Under the new 

The Advisor}' Program and the Vietnamese Navy 329 

arrangement, the commander of the Rung Sat Special Zone reported to 
the local River Force commander who came directly under the Vietnam- 
ese Navy's headquarters in Saigon. Major Edward J. Bronars, USMC, and 
two assistants worked in the Rung Sat as advisors. At the end of the year, 
several other U.S. advisors, including a psychological warfare expert of 
the U.S. Navy, were assigned to the Rung Sat command. 

The Vietnamese commander had at his disposal two paramilitary 
companies o( about 200 men each, plus eight to ten river craft. Sea Force 
ships were attached for specific operations. Also, the Vietnamese convert- 
ed eight of the twelve MLMSs received in 1963 to armored motor 
launches with one 50 and two 30-caliber machine guns and shields for 
gunners and the coxswain. The reconfigured craft began operating on the 
rivers in the Rung Sat in April. The other four MLMSs were used for 
training at Vung Tau. 

Mining of these constricted waterways, however, was still a threat. To 
diminish the risk, LCVPs from the 22nd RAG, the rapid reaction unit 
based at Nha Be, swept the Long Tau, the main shipping channel, four 
times a week and the Soirap, an alternate channel, twice a week. At the 
end of 1964, Captain Hardcastle appointed a board to survey anti-mining 
operations in the critical Rung Sat. That group reported that much 
progress had been made during the year to improve security, but 
recommended an even greater effort in the coming months. Even though 
no minings occurred during 1964, the board cautioned that the Viet Cong 
could be waiting for the best moment tactically or psychologically to close 
the channel." 

In addition to minesweeping, the River Force periodically mounted 
operations against Viet Cong strongholds in the Rung Sat. In one instance, 
on 16 April, 2 LCMs, supported by 1 LSIL command ship, 1 monitor, 4 
STCANs, and 3 junks from Coastal Division 33, embarked two companies 
of South Vietnamese troops. Their objective was to destroy two Viet Cong 
companies which threatened the junk base at Ly Nhon. The Vietnamese 
also hoped to catch troops resting there while moving between Long An 
and Go Cong Provinces. The 2 LCMs disembarked their troops at 0600 as 
the LSIL fired her 3-inch guns at suspected Viet Cong concentrations. 

^^E. J. Bronars, transcript of interview with Oscar P. Fitzgerald, Naval Historical Center, in Little 
Creek, VA, 22 Apr 1975; NAG, Monthly Evaluation, Apr 1964; Bucklew Report; NAG, Fact Sheets, 
N-5, N-13, of 7 Oct 1964; NAG, Historical Review, 1964, p. 10; Advisory Board, "Long Tau-Soirap 
River Area Security," of 30 Nov 1964. 

330 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

Meanwhile, the monitor, the junks, and the STCANs patrolled the banks 
to block escape across the Soirap River. Firing ceased at 0830, shortly 
after the troops had landed. The 1,100 South Vietnamese soldiers 
encountered a thirty-man Viet Cong platoon and, in a twenty-minute fire- 
fight, killed three of the enemy and captured three. Making no further 
contact, the troops reembarked at 1400. 

Later in 1964, RAG units participated in the first joint army-navy-air 
force assault operation in the Rung Sat. The action began at dawn on 24 
December with a Vietnamese Sea Force diversionary bombardment north 
of the target, a Viet Cong supply base near the mouth of the Soirap River. 
The bombardment was followed by Vietnamese Air Force strikes. Then, 
helicopters and River Force craft landed paramilitary forces to secure the 
objective. The operation resulted in the seizure of 600 kilograms of rice, 
10 sampans, 1 motorized junk, and 50 rounds of Russian-made ammuni- 

As in An Xuyen Province, free-fire zones were established in the Rung 
Sat in 1964. Sea Force ships transiting the Saigon shipping channel, ships 
engaged in training exercises, and ships directed to support besieged 
Rung Sat hamlets fired shore bombardment missions into these areas. An 
L-19 Cessna aircraft, assigned to the Rung Sat commander, usually spotted 
for the bombarding ships. The 3-inch guns on board Sea Force ships, with 
a range of 9,000 yards, could cover the entire zone during a five-hour 
cruise, while three ships stationed at predetermined locations could 
blanket the zone simultaneously. A typical mission took place on 24 
October, when LSMs Huong Giang and Haii Giang (FiQ-406) shelled Viet 
Cong training and staging areas. During the operation. Lieutenant Keith 
L. Christensen, a U.S. advisor, flew overhead in the L-19 to direct 
Vietnamese fire. He termed the fire of Hau Giang the most accurate he 
had observed from the Vietnamese Navy.'^ 

Although the Vietnamese Army and Navy were successful in a number 
of operations, especially in the river mouth and Rung Sat regions, their 
control over much of the Mekong Delta during 1964 was lost to the 
enemy. The Viet Cong extended their influence throughout the area, 
mauling government forces and dispersing paramilitary units. In April, for 

"Advisory Board, "Long Tau-Soirap River Area Security," end. 11, p. 1-2; NAG, Historical 
Review, 1964, p. 14; Naval History Division, "History of U.S. Naval Operations, Vietnam, 1964," 
unpublished history in Naval Historical Center, 19^0, p. 203. 

The Adi'isory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 


X ^ 







*- -a 

332 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

instance, the Communists overran a district capital in Chuong Thien 
Province and killed over 300 South Vietnamese soldiers. Concerned by 
growing Viet Cong power, units of the army and navy often avoided 
offensive actions, indirectly surrendering control of key land areas and 
waterways to the enemy. With the South Vietnamese armed forces unable 
to reverse the course of events, by December 1964 the region around the 
capital of the Republic of Vietnam itself was host to regimental-size Viet 
Cong forces.''* 

The year 1964 was a time of turmoil. The political upheaval following 
in the wake of the coup against Diem in November 1963 brought nation- 
building and the military effort to a standstill. The Communists seized the 
opportunity to attempt to deal South Vietnam a death blow. To help 
counter this threat, U.S. leaders strengthened the advisory effort by 
substantially increasing the number of advisors and the level of military 
aid. In addition, the Navy dispatched the Bucklew team to South Vietnam 
to evaluate naval operations and recommend improvements in the 
Vietnamese Navy. The group highlighted the primary importance of 
interdicting Communist coastal infiltration and securing the inland 
waterways of the Mekong Delta region. 

The Vietnamese Navy registered some progress during 1964. Estab- 
lishment of the Chief of Naval Operations billet, with its more direct 
access to the Joint General Staff, and actions to integrate the Coastal Force 
into the regular navy improved the command structure. The naval service 
grew in size as the United States provided more ships, craft, weapons, and 
equipment and supported higher personnel levels. This enabled creation 
of a seventh river assault group, the development of promising anti- 
mining and anti-ambush resources, and construction of the more capable 
Yabuta junks. Training was accelerated with the establishment of new 
schools for the combat and support forces and deployment to Vietnam of 
additional U.S. mobile training teams. The supply system was better 
organized and new repair facilities and parts depots were opened. 

Nonetheless, by the end of the year, the Vietnamese Navy was less able 
than it had been to fight the war. The officer corps, disorganized by the 
Diem coup, was hindered further by the political intrigue, inexperience. 

'■"Sharp and Westmoreland, Report on the War in Vietnam, pp. 83-95; U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 3, pt. 
IVC.l, pp. 30-46, 58-76; Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports, pp. 62-85. 

The Advisory Program and the Vietnamese Navy 333 

and lack of motivation of many of its leaders. The combat forces were 
unable to deploy consistently a sizeable proportion of their units for 
primary missions because of diversions for secondary duties, poor 
preventive maintenance of vessels, and overloaded repair facilities. In 
addition, low recruiting and desertion caused serious personnel shortages 
in the Coastal Force. The Sea Force, the River Force, and the especially 
troubled Coastal Force, discovered little Communist infiltration into the 
Mekong Delta or movement on its waterways, even though the evidence 
now available suggests a significant enemy effort that year. Despite a 
number of successful actions along the An Xuyen coast, at the mouths of 
the Mekong River, and in the Rung Sat, the Vietnamese Army and Navy 
were losing control of the vital delta region. It became increasingly clear 
that the South Vietnamese Navy required more than U.S. advisors and 
material assistance to stem the rising enemy tide. 


Naval Support to the 
Counterinsurgency Struggle 

Increasingly frustrated in attempts to revitalize the foundering politico-military 
effort in South Vietnam, the administration of President Lyndon B. Johnson 
focused greater attention in late 1963 and early 1964 on the insurgency's base of 
aid and command control — North Vietnam. Johnson's strategists concluded that 
bringing war to the North Vietnamese in increasing measure would sap their will 
to continue the struggle. At the same time, U.S. civilian and military leaders 
continued the in-country programs to win the support of the South Vietnamese 
people for their government and to diminish the Communist threat to internal 
security. ' 

Plans for intensified covert action against Hanoi were under review for 
most of 1963. In May of that year, theJCS directed CINCPAC to develop 
a program of U.S. military support for South Vietnamese covert, hit and 
run actions against North Vietnam. In keeping with the guidance drawn 
up after the Bay of Pigs, large covert operations were controlled by the 
Defense Department. Hence, Admiral Felt, who also pressed for such a 
program, had his staff prepare Operation Plan 34, which he dispatched to 
Washington on 1 7 June. But, various difficulties, including delays in the 
operational employment in the Western Pacific of two fast patrol boats 
(PTF), to be used in the maritime phase of the plan, prevented quick 
approval and implementation of the proposed program. Further, the 
Diem government, preoccupied with internal political troubles, evinced 
little enthusiasm for these extraterritorial actions. 

The pace quickened in the last two months of 1963. General Harkins 
found Diem's successors more amenable to expanded operations and on 
18 November the general informed Admiral Felt that the "climate is 

'Memo, OP-09A to OP-002, of 21 May 1963; JCS, Hision, pt. 1, pp. 7-37—7-39. 


Naval Support to the Counterinsurgency Struggle 335 

right" for the contemplated program.^ On 20 November, at the Secretary 
of Defense conference in Honolulu, COMUSMACV and the CIA's Chief 
of Far Eastern Operations, William Colby, were ordered to prepare a 
twelve-month, three-phase plan for actions against North Vietnam in a 
campaign of graduated intensity. The final program was to draw heavily 
upon CINCPAC's work, and indeed would be labeled Operation Plan 
34A. The new president allowed planning for covert operations against 
the North to proceed as before. Johnson, however, cautioned that the 
credibility of a U.S. denial of involvement, the degree of destruction to be 
expected in the North, possible North Vietnamese retaliation, and the 
worldwide reaction should be taken into account.^ 

Throughout the month of December 1963, Vietnamese, MACV, CIA, 
Seventh Fleet, and CINCPACFLT representatives made urgent prepara- 
tions to refine the maritime aspect of the plan, to outline command 
relationships, and to ready the boats, men, and equipment for the 
prospective actions. On 18-19 December, a conference proposed by 
General Harkins to discuss modifications to the PTFs and their future 
support at Danang was convened at the Subic Bay Naval Base. The 
conferees agreed that the boats would be stripped of the 40-millimeter 
gun forward and non-essential equipment, and fuel tanks added to enable 
fast, long-range forays into North Vietnamese waters. A naval Mobile 
Support Team, initially consisting of eleven men; the 100-ton tool- 
machinery package for on-site repair and maintenance support; and 
necessary spare parts were scheduled to arrive in Danang on 1 5 February 
1964. It was anticipated that the boats and their crews would be ready to 
deploy from Subic by 20 March. ^ 

The speed of preparation was accelerated on 20 December, following a 
Secretary of Defense conference in Saigon. At that time, Secretary of 
Defense McNamara reviewed and approved the concept of operations of 
the completed plan 34A and "showed great interest in developing full 

"Msg, CP 182345Z Nov 1963. See also U.S.G. Sharp, Strategy For Defeat: Vietnam in Retrospect (San 
Rafael, CA: Presidio Press, 1978), pp. 28-29; JCS, Historj; pt. 1, pp. 7-37—7-39. 

^V.S.-V.M. Relations, bk. 3, pt. IVC.I, pp. 1-7; pt. IVC.2a, pp. 1-2; msg, CP 301841Z Nov 1963; 
Chester L. Cooper, The Lost Crusade. America in Vietnam (New York: Dodd, Mead and Co., 1970), p. 
224; Lyndon B.Johnson, The Vantage Point: Perspectites of the PresiJetiC): 1963-1969 (New York: Holt, 
Rinehart and Winston, 1971), pp. 42-46; JC:S, Hislorj; pt. 1, pp. 7-39, 8-1. 

-Msgs, CPFLT 062104Z Nov 1963; CNO 182315Z; CP 301933Z; CNO 061959Z Dec; 
062029Z; BUSHIPS 062351Z; COMUSMACV 070407Z; CPFLT 100649Z; 110357Z; 130321Z; 
CNO 132115Z; COM7FLT 160630Z; Commander Naval Base, Subic 190615Z. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

^ ^' 



Lao Cham 
, , — , Island 

Coast of North Vietnam 

Naval Support to the Counterinsurgency Struggle 337 

capability for early implementation of several actions" contemplated.' 
When Admiral Felt expressed his view that the few Nastys and Swift boats 
available would only be capable of small-scale actions, the Secretary of 
Defense directed the Navy to purchase four more Nastys from the 
Norwegian government, to "be made available in Vietnam for maximum 
readiness [as soon as possible]."'' The Secretary of Defense also called for 
the deployment to the Western Pacific of PTF-1 and PTF-2, the two 
American-made boats then serving with the Atlantic Fleet. 

CINCPAC, appraising the dangers inherent in the proposed operations, 
observed that "the U.S. must be prepared to back up RVN [Republic of 
Vietnam] and be willing to commit U.S. forces in the event reaction from 
DRV and CHICOMS escalates to a threshold beyond RVN capabilities or 
[possibly] if actions in this plan are not sufficiently persuasive."^ For these 
reasons, provisions for expanded U.S. support or the commitment of 
forces to counter Communist escalation were incorporated into the final 
plan, which then was carried by hand to Washington. McNamara 
informed President Johnson the following day, 2 1 December, that the 
34A plan was "an excellent job. ..[presenting] a wide variety 
of... operations against North Vietnam from which I believe we should aim 
to select those that provide maximum pressure with minimum risk."^ 

As Operation Plan 34A underwent review at the highest levels of the 
administration, the naval command quickened the pace of preparations for 
the maritime phase by advancing deadlines for completing the boat 
modifications and providing personnel and logistic support. The Bureau 
of Ships was directed to obtain the additional Nastys and, on the last day 
of 1963, the CNO, Admiral McDonald, authorized Commander in Chief, 
U.S. Atlantic Fleet, to initiate action to transfer the U.S. -made PTFs, their 
crews, and necessary spare parts to Subic Bay.' 

By mid-January 1964, the continued instability of the South Vietnamese 
military government convinced U.S. leaders that additional steps were 

'Msg, CP 201807Z Dec 1963. 

^Ihid. See also msgs, CP 180549Z Dec 1963; JCS 211951Z. 

'Msg, CP 180549Z Dec 1963. 

^Merno, McNamara to President, of 21 Dec 1963 in Gareth Porter, ed., Vietnam: The Definitive 
Documentation of Human Decisions, Vol. 11 (Standfordville, NY: Earl M. Coleman Enterprises, Inc., 
1979), p. 232. 

'Msgs, JCS 211951Z Dec 1963; CNO 231723Z; CPFLT 232311Z; COMUSMACV 240325Z; 
COMSERVPAC 240542Z; Naval Ship Repair Facility Subic 260849Z; CNO 281927Z; CPFLT 
28231 IZ; CNO 312145Z; memos, DEPSECDEF to SECNAV, of 26 and 27 Dec; Itr, CINCPACFLT 
to CINCPAC, ser 02/001 of 2 Jan 1964. 

338 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

necessary to reverse the tide. The Johnson administration now felt it 
essential to demonstrate to the North Vietnamese that their support of the 
southern insurgency would become increasingly costly. At the same time, 
some U.S. leaders, in particular General William C. Westmoreland, then 
Deputy COMUSMACV, felt covert operations "represented probably the 
only action we could take against the North without provoking a level of 
reaction which the South Vietnamese would be unable to absorb. "'° On 
16 January, President Johnson approved implementation, to begin on 1 
February, of Operation Plan 34A. But in keeping with the concept of 
graduated response, he allowed the execution of only the four-month 
Phase I segment, which consisted of the least-risk intelligence collection, 
psychological, and sabotage operations." 

At the end of 1963, the CIA relinquished support and control of most 
covert operations in the North to MACV. Established on 24 January 1964 
under General Harkins's command, the Special Operations Group (later 
Studies and Observation Group), or MACSOG, exercised operational 
control from Saigon of 34A activities, including maritime operations. 
However, Washington kept a tight rein on these operations through the 
Defense Department's Office of the Special Assistant for Counterinsur- 
gency and Special Activities (SACSA), which superseded General Lans- 
dale's Office of Special Operations in the fall of 1963. 

Direct oversight of the naval program was exercised by the U.S. Naval 
Advisory Detachment (NAD) in Danang, the base used by boats 
operating on missions to the North. Subordinate to NAD was the Mobile 
Support Team, which consisted of a Repair and Maintenance Team and a 
Boat Training Team. The former detachment, eventually numbering five 
officers and forty men, provided unit-level repair and maintenance service 
for the boats from a floating drydock, placed in operation by Amphibious 
Construction Battalion 1 in April. The unit also operated a crane barge, 
and electrical, electronic, carpentry, welding, and machinery repair shops. 
Major repairs and overhauls were available only in Subic. The Boat 
Training Team, with two American officers and ten men for each 

'"Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports, p. 106. 

"Palmer, in The MtNamara Strategy, p. 109, avers that the 34A program was the first test of 
McNamara's use of the Planning Programming Budgeting System (PPBS) to monitor and direct U.S. 
military actions in support of foreign policy. See also U.S. -V.N. Relations, bk. 3, pt. IVC.2(a), pp. 1-4; 
msg, CP210314ZJan 1964; memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM000397-64 of 27 Feb 1964; JCS, //mWo', 
pt. 1, pp. 8-3, 8-20—8-23. 

Naval Support to the Coitnterinsurgency Struggle 339 

Vietnamese boat crew, instructed their counterparts in small craft 
handling, basic maintenance, and tactics. The NAD also supen/ised the 
SEAL Training Team (two officers and ten men) preparing LDNN 
commandos for their dangerous work, as well as the Marine Reconnais- 
sance Team (one officer and three men), and three fast patrol craft (PCF), 
or Swift boats. 

Except during operations, the naval forces in Danang were commanded 
by the Naval Operations Support Group, of the Pacific Fleet Amphibious 
Force, based in Coronado, California. Under this headquarters was SEAL 
Team 1 , which directed the SEAL detachment in Danang. Also subordi- 
nate to the Naval Operations Support Group was Boat Support Unit 1. 
The mission of this unit, established on 1 February 1964 under Lieutenant 
Burton L. Knight, was to ( 1 ) develop, test and evaluate procedures, 
techniques and equipment and to improve and document tactics in river 
and restricted water warfare, and (2) to man, maintain and operate 
assigned craft in support of naval special operations and to provide trained 
personnel to support the PTF/PGM programs.'' The Mobile Support 
Team in Danang, with naval personnel assigned on six-month tours of 
duty, was the forward area component of Boat Support Unit 1 . Because 
the distance between California and South Vietnam hindered the effective 
administration and support of the Mobile Support Team, however, in 
March 1964 Lieutenant Knight took direct charge of the detachment. 
While HSAS supplied the naval forces with general stores and certain 
other special supplies, most administrative and logistic support for Danang 
was channeled through the Subic Bay Naval Base of Commander Naval 
Forces, Philippines." 

In initiating maritime operations, Washington policymakers sought to 
send a clear signal to Hanoi of U.S. potential for retribution. Initially, 
however, this communication was muffled. The first phase of the program 
started slowly. The delays usually associated with establishing base and 
logistic facilities; deploying boats from the assembly line in Norway 

'^Ltr, OICBSUl to CNO, ser 012 of 15 Sep 1964. See also msg, NOSGPAC 160325Z Mar 1965; 
Colby, Honorable Men, p. 219; Colby, Interview; Merdinger, "Civil Engineers, Seabees, and Bases in 
Vietnam," p. 264; Bucklew, Interview with Mason, pp. 317-22, 358-60; Mulford, Interview. 

"Msgs, CP 292126Z Jan 1964; CPFLT 280342Z Feb; COMNAVPHIL 021003Z Mar; JCS 
271625Z; Itr, CINCPACFLT to CNO/CINCPAC, ser 61/00527 of 16 Jul; memo, OP-01 to CNO, 
ser BM61-64 of 15 Jun; MACV, Command History, 1964, Ann. A, pp. I-l— 1-2, IV-13— IV-16; 
Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports, pp. 106-07; BSUl, Command History, 1967; NOSGPAC, 
Command History, 1963-1966. 

340 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

directly to the operating area in Southeast Asia; creating a necessary spare 
parts pipeline for the Nastys, Swifts, and the American-made PTs; and 
assembling trained U.S. and Vietnamese personnel were aggravated by 
seasonal heavy weather. In addition, a period of adjustment was required 
to test boats, men, equipment, and operational techniques. 

PTF-3 and PTF-4, the Norwegian-built Nastys that had been in Subic 
since the preceding fall, were soon ready for deployment to the forward 
operating base at Danang early in 1964. After removal of their forward 
40-millimeter gun to allow installation of fuel tanks, the boats were loaded 
on board Carter Hall for the transit. On 22 February, the first two PTFs 
arrived at their destination, after the six-month transit from Norfolk. 
Unfortunately, during off-loading PTF-3 was smashed into the ship by a 
freak swell, causing severe damage to the hull and necessitating return to 
Subic for repairs. The boat rejoined PTF-4 in Danang at the end of the 

In the meantime, the other six boats were expeditiously delivered to 
Subic. SS Pioneer Myth departed Norfolk on 19 January 1964 with PTF-1 
and PTF-2 on board and entered Subic Bay during the first week of 
February. Purchased from the Norwegian government, four Nastys, 
designated PTF-5, PTF-6, PTF-7, and PTF-8, were shipped from Bergen, 
Norway, on 1 February in Point Barroiv (AKD-1). The ship arrived in the 
Philippines on 3 March. From March until the end of May 1964, these 
boats underwent time-consuming but essential modifications at the Ship 
Repair Facility and conducted sea trials to test the work done. Leaking fuel 
tanks necessitated their replacement on all the boats, including the two at 
Danang which returned to Subic for the fifteen-day alteration. Problems 
with armament caused the greatest delays. Captain Phillip S. Bucklew, 
Commander Naval Operations Support Group, U.S. Pacific Fleet, felt that 
the "NASTY Class PTF's are examples of excellent hull and propulsion 
systems with inadequate armament."'"" Following prolonged study, 81- 
millimeter mortars were installed on two of the boats as compensation for 
loss of their 40-millimeter guns. 

Problems also arose with PTF-1 and PTF-2, the American-built boats. 
Although Secretary of Defense McNamara mandated their deployment to 
Southeast Asia, naval commanders were dubious of their compatibility 
with the rest of the force. At one point, for example. Admiral Ricketts, the 
Vice Chief of Naval Operations, noted that the boats were too limited in 

''Ltr, COMNOSGPAC to COMPHIBFORPACFLT, ser 062 of 1 Jun 1964. 

Naval Support to the Counterinsurgency Struggle 341 

range. Further, after an inspection trip to South Vietnam, Admiral Sharp 
reported to CINCPAC that naval officers in Danang and with MACSOG 
in Saigon had "misgivings" about the craft and were "somewhat 
reluctant" to have them in Danang. '^ Nonetheless, the decision was made 
to keep the two American gasoline-powered boats — or "gassers" — with 
the force in Danang. In contrast to the Nasty boats, PTF-1 and PTF-2 
retained their forward 40-milIimeter guns. Two 50-caliber machine guns 
also were installed amidship on each boat."" 

These efforts to prepare the boats for the maritime campaign delayed 
the initial phase of 34A operations and explained some of the problems 
encountered after 16 February 1964, when the first missions into North 
Vietnamese waters were launched. On that date. South Vietnamese 
"frogmen," the LDNN, attempted unsuccessfully to sabotage a ferry on 
Cape Ron and the Swatow patrol craft at the Quang Khe base. 
Subsequently, swimmers were again sent against the boats at Quang Khe, 
with the same result. Attempts to destroy Route 1 bridges below the 18th 
parallel were twice aborted. 

Dissatisfaction among U.S. leaders over the slow progress and limited 
results of the overall 34A program was enunciated during the spring. For 
instance, in April the U.S. Ambassador to Saigon, Henry Cabot Lodge, 
emphatically stated that 34A activities "might be good training but were 
certainly having no effect on Hanoi."'' Disenchantment with the 34A 
program, especially the maritime operation, also was expressed by some 
naval commanders. Admiral Sharp observed: 

We have spent a lot of time, effort and money on the PTF program. I 
have been watching this program closely and see... some of our early 
reservations on the PTF concept becoming reality .... The NVN 
defensive posture in potential areas may be more extensive and effective 
than originally assessed.'^ 

"Memo, Sharp to Felt, of 14 Feb 1964. Colby also felt that the American-built boats would create 
problems. See memo, Colby to Krulak, end. in memo, Riley to Rickens, of 4Jan 1964. See also msg, 
CNO 102333Z Jan 1964. 

"^Msgs, COMUSMACV, CNO, COMSERVPAC, CPFLT, Naval Ship Repair Facility, Subic, 
BUSHIPS, Commander Naval Base, Subic, Carter Hall, 2 Jan-16 Apr 1964; OP-434, memo for 
record, No. 0021 of 8 Jan; memos, OP-03 to Director, Joint Staff OCS), ser 002P43 of 9Jan; Sharp to 
Felt, of 14 Feb; OP-343E, of 22 Jun; Itrs, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 71/0071 of 5 Feb; CNO to 
SECNAV, ser 213P43 of 11 Feb; CNO, ser 360P43 of 16 Mar; MACV, Command History, 1964, 
Ann. A, pp. IV-U — IV-16; Krisel, "Special Maritime Operations in Vietnam," pp. 104-06; Cooper, 
Loil Crusade, p. 228. 

'"Quoted in William P. Bundy, memo for record, of 27 Apr 1964. 

"Msg, CPFLT 190259Z May 1964. 

342 United States Naiy and Vietnam Conflict 

CINCPACFLT also was concerned that South Vietnamese personnel were 
not yet prepared for the missions. He stated, "we know that generally for 
the Vietnamese, under their own leadership, the unexpected circumstance 
can defeat an entire operation .... The competency of the Vietnamese 
UDT/SEAL Team has not been fully developed and is a questionable 
capability."''' Nevertheless, other key American leaders, including Secre- 
tary of Defense McNamara, General Maxwell Taylor, Chairman of the 
JCS, and General Earl Wheeler, Army Chief of Staff, concluded that some 
advantage was gained from harassing North Vietnam and causing that 
country to divert limited resources to its defense. Hence, despite the 
negligible results achieved before late May 1964, the 34 A maritime 
operation was continued. '° 

The Tempo of the 34A Operation Quickens 

By this time, however, the maritime force was better prepared to carry 
out its mission in the North. Administrative and logistical procedures 
were better developed, knowledge of the enemy's defenses was greater, 
and most of the operation's resources were deployed to the forward area. 
The pier and support building at the port were erected and a fuel tank 
farm neared completion. Both the Repair and Maintenance Team and the 
first increment of the Boat Training Team of the Navy's Mobile Support 
Team were in place. Commodore Cang, the South Vietnamese Chief of 
Naval Operations, also detailed the cream of his service's volunteers for 
this dangerous duty. After sixteen weeks of training and limited operation, 
four Vietnamese boat crews were prepared, in various degrees, for action, 
as was the SEAL-trained LDNN team.'' 

On 27 May the maritime operation scored its first significant success 
with the capture of a North Vietnamese junk and subsequent interroga- 
tion of its six passengers. The detainees were taken to a special facility on 
Lao Cham Island off Danang, questioned for intelligence, and released in 

™Msgs, JCS 262339Z Mar 1964; COMUSMACV 311037Z; memo, OP-601 to CNO, ser 
BM000569-64 of 29 Apr; JCS, Hision. pt. 1, pp. 8-22—8-23, 9-11. 

-'Msgs, CP 272258Z May 1964; memo, Sharp to Felt, of 14 Feb 1964; OP-343, memo, of 22 Jun; 
Itr, Drachnik to Ricketts, of 13 Mar, p. 13- 

Naval Support to the Counterinsurgency Struggle 343 

the North with their junk soon afterward. Thus began a phase of the 
program that would become a valuable means of gathering intelligence on 
North Vietnam and a vehicle for conducting psychological warfare activity 
against the enemy. '^ 

In June and July sabotage operations also were attended with success. 
On June 12 a storage facility was destroyed and two weeks later a Route 1 
bridge near Hao Men Dong was dropped. A sabotage mission carried out 
on the night of 30 June- 1 July clearly demonstrated the hazards but also 
the opportunity for threatening and harassing the North Vietnamese in 
their own territory. This action began soon after midnight when PTF-5 
and PTF-6 closed the North Vietnamese coast near the mouth of the Kien 
River and launched rubber boats carrying South Vietnamese attack teams. 
Unfortunately, the raiding force soon was sighted by a fishing sampan 
which promptly raised the alarm. Undeterred, the sabotage party scouted 
the beach with two swimmers, set up a five-man security force on shore, 
and moved inland to attack the target, a reservoir pump house. After 
illuminating the building with a 60-millimeter mortar, the team destroyed 
it with eighteen rounds of 57-millimeter recoilless rifle fire at 0215. 
Meanwhile, the North Vietnamese surrounded the security force on the 
beach and took it under heavy fire. But, the PTFs, which were standing 
by, moved close inshore and shelled the enemy with their 40 and 20- 
millimeter guns, causing the North Vietnamese attack to subside. At the 
same time, the landing party fought their way to the beach in hand-to- 
hand combat and launched their rubber boats. By 0240 PTF-5 had 
reembarked all but two of the team members, who were believed killed, 
and set course for Danang. Despite the loss of two men and three 
abandoned 57-millimeter guns, twenty-two of the enemy were reported 
killed and the target destroyed. The mission was a success. ^^ During July 
the maritime force conducted several more successful junk captures and 
psychological warfare actions directed against the Swatow bases at Ben 
Thuy and Quang Khe. The only failure since May occurred on the night 
of 15 July, when two men were lost during an aborted attack on a security 
post near Cape Ron.^^ 

"Msgs, COMUSMACV 031115Z Jun 1964; MACSOG 041100Z; MACV, Command History, 
1964, Ann. A, p. IV-2; Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports, pp. 108-09. 

"Msg, MACSOG 02233 IZ Jul 1964. 

^'MACV, Command History, 1964, Ann. A, p. lV-2; msg, MACSOG 0812 15Z Jul 1964; Krisel, 
"Special Maritime Operations in Vietnam," pp. 116-18. 

344 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Naval Civic Action in the Pacification Campaign 

Although the execution of covert operations against the North com- 
manded increasing attention in early 1964, the effort to foster a closer 
association of the South Vietnamese people with their government 
retained a high priority. An occasion to demonstrate the U.S. commitment 
to the welfare of the South Vietnamese people arose in January 1964 
when a cholera epidemic swept the Saigon area, striking over 20,000 
inhabitants. Following a request from the South Vietnamese government, 
CINCPACFLT alerted his Naval Medical Research Unit 2 on Taiwan and 
soon afterward airlifted the men, supplies, and equipment to Saigon. 
Throughout late January and February the fifteen-man medical unit, under 
the command of Captain Robert A. Phillips, treated 1,877 cholera victims, 
only 2 of whom died. The unit operated from Saigon's Cho Quan 
Infectious Disease Hospital, where it established a three-ward, 160-bed 
treatment facility. At the same time, members of the naval medical unit 
instructed 425 Vietnamese physicians, nurses, technicians, and students in 
the most effective methods for combatting the dread disease. When the 
team departed South Vietnam on 26 February, the epidemic was largely 
under control, an achievement the naval unit helped make possible. ^^ 

The long-standing practice of "showing the flag" to bolster South 
Vietnamese morale and demonstrate allied solidarity also continued 
during the year. In January light guided missile cruiser Providence, flagship 
of the Seventh Fleet, called at Saigon to the enthusiastic acclaim of the 
city's residents. The ship delivered over thirty-eight tons of humanitarian 
and educational materials as its part in the Navy's Project Handclasp effort 
to aid underprivileged peoples. Buoyed by the reception accorded the 
ship and crew, Admiral Moorer, Commander Seventh Fleet, commented 
that the visit was "certainly a clear demonstration of the stabilizing and 
reassuring influence of sea power on the political climate of unsettled 
areas. "^'' In the spring, attack transport Paul Revere also visited Saigon. The 
ship's commanding officer, Captain William S. Bradway, and his crew 
delivered Project Handclasp supplies to a local church serving refugees 
from North Vietnam. ^^ Later in the year. Admiral Moorer's successor, 

■\tr, CHBUMED to OP-09B92, ser 38 of 1 1 Feb 1966; State Department, ■'Memorandum on 
Situation in South Vietnam," of 13 Jul 1964. 
^''Ltr, Moorer to Ricketts, of 24 Jan 1964. 
^'Friedman, Interview; msg, COMPH1BRON5 200856Z May 1964. 

Naval Support to the Counterinsurgency Struggle 



Guided missile cruiser Oklahoma City (CLG-5J, the Seventh Fleet flagship, steams 
through the Rung Sat swamp enroute to an official port call at Saigon in July 1964. 

Vice Admiral Roy L. Johnson, paid a three-day visit to the South 
Vietnamese capital in his flagship, Oklahoma City (CLG-5)."* In November, 
Princeton carried 1 ,000 tons of emergency flood relief supplies from Hong 
Kong to Quang Ngai. At the same time, Winston (AKA-94) and Bexar 
(APA-237) used their ship's boats and landing craft for lighterage services 
in storm-damaged Danang harbor. 

Throughout this period, the Headquarters Support Activity, Saigon, 
undertook civic action work. The men of the command and their wives 

^^COM7FLT, Command History, 1964, p. 7. 

346 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

distributed food, clothing, furniture, and toys to orphanages. In addition, 
HSAS personnel erected playgrounds, showed films, and arranged for 
tours in visiting ships for the South Vietnamese. Most U.S. naval 
personnel acted spontaneously to better the lot of unfortunate Vietnam- 
ese. Captain Friedman, who commanded Headquarters Support Activity, 
Saigon, until relieved by Captain Archie C. Kuntze in June 1964, stated 

It was just such an obvious need and the people didn't need any 
encouragement, and the support that [the Vietnamese] received from 
their government was so marginal according to our standards that it was 
one of those obvious things."' 

As during the previous year, the Navy's most direct contribution to the 
counterinsurgency struggle was made by the SEABEEs. In 1964, the State 
Department's Agency for International Development, in conjunction with 
the Defense Department, proposed a new use of these personnel. AID's 
recommendation was that SEABEE well digging teams, working with 
Army engineers, participate in a rural water supply project, especially by 
providing needy areas in the Mekong Delta with potable water. The 
drilling rigs and other equipment were available in-country, but at least 
seventy skilled personnel were needed to operate the equipment and 
eventually train the South Vietnamese to take over the job. To coordinate 
the provision of the Navy's SEABEEs and the Army's engineer personnel, 
CINCPAC convened a conference on 7 January 1964 at his headquarters. 
It was determined that the first contingent, composed of fifty SEABEEs 
and twenty Army engineers, would deploy to South Vietnam at the 
beginning of March. To prepare for the deployment of the teams, the 
Construction Battalion Center at Port Hueneme conducted a crash course 
in deep well drilling operations near the California base. Because of 
funding difficulties, movement of the first contingent was delayed. But on 
18 March, sixteen men under Chief Equipment Operator Willie Gipson 
from Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 9 departed for Saigon. 

COMUSMACV had operational control of the well drilling teams and 
the United States Operations Mission (USOM), in a combined program 
with the South Vietnamese, provided the equipment, materials, and 

""'Friedman, Interview, p. 17. See also HSAS, Draft History; Moore, et al., "Chaplains With Naval 
Units in Vietnam." 

Naval Support to the Connterinsurgency Struggle 



General William C. Westmoreland, Commander U.S. Military Assistance Command, 
Vietnam, and Captain Paul J. Knapp, Commanding Officer 0/ Princeton (LPH-5), on 
hoard the ship during flood relief operations off northern South Vietnam in late 1 964. 

funding support. The units were commanded, however, by the Naval 
Construction Battalions, U.S. Pacific Fleet Detachment, Republic of 
Vietnam. Administrative and personnel support was channeled through 
this headquarters from Commander Construction Battalions, U.S. Pacific 

The naval constructionmen, eventually numbering twenty-six individu- 
als, although fifty had been authorized, worked at four separate drilling 
sites in the Mekong Delta and one on the central Vietnamese coast. Teams 
1 and 2 sank their wells at Tan Hiep and Ben Luc, southwest of Saigon. 

348 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Team 3 operated at Tac Van, deep in the Viet Cong-controlled province 
of An Xuyen, and Team 4 drilled at Cat Lo near Vung Tau. Team 5 
provided the Army Special Forces camp at Dong Ba Thin, just north of 
Cam Ranh Bay, with a deep well. 

As often in modern naval history, the SEABEEs performed their work 
in close proximity to the enemy. On 16 July, the Viet Cong triggered a 
road ambush on a SEABEE truck near isolated Tac Van. Steelworker 2nd 
Class William W. Trottno, Steelworker Thomas M. Charles, Utilitiesman 
2nd Class L. W. Hanson, Equipment Operator 3rd Class W. T. Brown, 
and Equipment Operator Constructionman E. J. Hoskins all received 
wounds, fortunately of a superficial nature. In September, the team site 
was attacked again. This time, two South Vietnamese defenders were 
killed and the drilling rig was damaged extensively. 

By mid-October, the South Vietnamese appeared able to perform the 
well drilling task with only USOM civilian advisors providing limited 
assistance. Hence, Lieutenant Commander John R. Wear (CEC), the 
newly assigned Officer in Charge, Naval Construction Battalions, U.S. 
Pacific Fleet Detachment, Republic of Vietnam, initiated actions to phase 
out the Navy's personnel. By the end of the year the existing well drilling 
program was completed and all but one of the SEABEE teams had left 
South Vietnam. The remaining unit. Team 5, completed its work at Dong 
Ba Thin on 10 February 1965. As a result of this SEABEE effort, pure 
water became available to villagers who previously were forced to rely on 
tainted sources. Further, South Vietnamese drillers were trained to 
continue this flow of fresh water to their people.^" 

In addition to the well drilling units, the SEABEE Technical Assistance 
Teams continued their work in civic action and military construction. At 
any given time, two teams assisted the Army's Special Forces in erecting 
fortifications and facilities at isolated border camps, constructed airstrips, 
and improved roads; two other teams participated in rural pacification 
efforts under USOM. Based on their record in 1963, the STATs were 

'"COMCBPAC, 'Helping Others Help Themselves," pp. 40-41; COMCBPAC, Detachment 
Republic of Vietnam/Thailand, Completion Report, of Oct 1964, pp. 2, 3, 5; COMCBPAC, 
Detachment Republic of Vietnam, Completion Report, 1963-1972, pp. 3-3, 3-4, 4-9, 5-23 — 5-25; 
CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, pp. 348-49; MACV, Command History, 1964, pp. 78-80; 
Naval History Division, "History of U.S. Naval Operations Vietnam, 1964," pp. 133-34; msgs, CP 
072152ZJan 1964; 082252Z; 292124Z; 260246Z Feb; COMCBPAC 100227Z Mar; CINC- 
PACFLT, Annual Report, FY1964, p. 65; Tregaskis, Southeast Asia: Biulding the Bases , p. 62; Flag Plot 
Briefer, of 17 Jul 1964; COM7FLT, Command History, 1964, p. 7. 

Naval Support to the Counterinsurgency Struggle 349 

highly prized for their contribution to the nation-building and counterin- 
surgency campaign. In fact, after his tour of Southeast Asia, Admiral 
Ricketts, the Vice Chief of Naval Operations, reported that "there is no 
doubt that our STATs are turning in an outstanding performance, and 
doing more than any other similar agency in this area."^' 

This appreciation led the South Vietnamese government and USOM to 
request a marked increase in the number of STATs deployed to the 
country. The Saigon officials wanted ten teams for civic action projects, in 
addition to the technical assistance and well drilling units already 
scheduled for South Vietnam. Early in 1964, however, CINCPACFLT 
recommended against an expanded STAT program, because he felt that 
action would weaken Pacific Fleet SEABEE units and necessitate reduc- 
tion of other vital construction work in his command area. As an 
alternative, Admiral Sharp proposed use of SEABEE battalion detach- 
ments to perform specific construction tasks. When COMUSMACV 
reiterated the need for the additional teams, CINCPACFLT responded 
that manning both the STAT and well drilling units had strained his 
resources to the maximum. Admiral Sharp also observed that the "counter 
insurgency experience in RVN is, in my opinion, the most valuable and 
realistic experience available to today's SEABEEs. Their accomplishments 
have been outstanding in furthering the interest of the United States." 
With that in mind, he added: "I would welcome the opportunity to 
incorporate STAT teams from SEABEE sources outside PACFLT into this 
highly important and excellent training program."'^ 

Several months later, in May 1964, Secretary of Defense McNamara 
directed CINCPAC to detail future counterinsurgency requirements and 
the number of STATs to meet them. Admiral Felt concluded that in 
addition to the present 4 STATs, 12 more STATs and 12 port 
construction or "waterfront" teams could profitably be put to work in 
South Vietnam and Thailand. But, it soon became evident that this large 
increment could not be provided from the Navy's resources because of 
the fiscal and personnel costs involved. Although the proposal would 
receive further study, STAT force levels remained the same throughout 
the year of 1964." 

"Memo, OP-09 to OP-04, ser 010P09 of 10 Feb 1964. 
"Msg, CPFLT 222147Z Feb 1964. 

"Memo, OP-60 to OP-40, ser BM0905-64 of 2 Jul 1964; msgs, CPFLT 10095 IZ Dec 1963; 
SECSTATE 200520Z; CPFLT 270847Z; CP 1601 17Z Feb 1964; CPFLT 222147Z; CP 112350Z 

350 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

As part of the Special Forces program of establishing border posts to 
monitor and impede Viet Cong infiltration, STAT 0503, under Lieutenant 
(j.g.) Francis M. Oxley, landed in Saigon on 7 January 1964. The team 
soon began work on a Special Forces camp at Minh Thanh, deep in the 
Viet Cong-controlled War Zone C northwest of the capital. That job 
finished, the unit redeployed to Moc Hoa in the Plain of Reeds. There, 
the terrain dictated the nature and method of building the fortified base. 
Earthmoving equipment was needed to raise the site above the monsoon 
water level and to cope with the eroding rains. STAT 0503 then enabled 
the U.S. and South Vietnamese defenders of the camp to take advantage 
of the area's waterways. The naval constructionmen created a boat basin, 
dug a canal 300 yards long, and fashioned several wooden boats. Then, at 
the end of June, Lieutenant Oxley's team was airlifted by C-123 aircraft to 
Bu Gia Map, 100 miles northeast of Saigon in forested hill country near 
the Cambodian border. The thirteen-man STAT improved and length- 
ened an existing airstrip, repaired camp facilities, and carried out its civic 
action responsibilities in the local Montagnard community. 

When STAT 1003 relieved Lieutenant Oxley's team in mid-August 
1964, the new arrivals continued work on the airstrip at Bu Gia Map, 
extending the runway to over 4,000 feet. In addition to other military 
construction and civic action activities, STAT 1003 built a 120-foot 
earthen dam for the mountain tribesmen. Departing the hill country at the 
end of the year. Lieutenant (j.g.) Warren M. Garbe's naval construction- 
men deployed to the Mekong Delta west of Saigon at Binh Thanh Thon, 
where they began work on a new Special Forces "A Team" camp. At the 
end of the unit's tour in February 1965, most of the task was completed. 

The Navy's SEABEEs also were deployed to another critical sector of 
the South Vietnamese border area. STAT 0504, under Lieutenant (j.g.) 
Henry Frauenfelder, arrived in the Central Highlands in January 1964. 
During the first one and one-half months, the team operated in the Pleiku 
area, constructing airstrips, erecting facilities, and clearing vegetation for 
fields of fire. In mid-February the STAT embarked on a hazardous 
undertaking when they accompanied Special Forces men and 350 South 
Vietnamese troops on a seventy-five-mile convoy into Viet Cong territory 

Mar; CP 090500Z Jun; memo, OP-60 to OP-04, ser BM0905-64 of 2 Jul; CINCPAC, Command 
History, 1964, pp. 160-61. 

Naval Support to the Counterimurgency Struggle 


\^ 105° 




J\Quang Tri 


^-^. Nam \ 

^. Dong • ^'^V. 

- 16° 



*^-> Dana 


Laos V*"" 











\ '^ 

Quang Ngai'l 



* .-V. ^.^) 

f- ^ ^ 

Kannack ^ ^ 
.Pleiku i 


r ■ 

Qui Nhon«pj 





\ i 



( '"i 



•Nha Trang^ 



C'—' aBu Gia Map 

• Minh Thanh 

Dong Ba Thin l|j 



\ Cam Ranh 
Phan Rang . ^ °** 


Tay Ninh 




, MocHoa 

>^Tan Son. 
t Nhut C 

, Saigon^W 





n Hiep* , JtyCat \-0/^ 
Ben Luc ^'^^V^^l.^^ 





Tac Van 




• ^ 


China Sea 









SEABEE Team Deployment Sites in South Vietnam, 1964-1965 

352 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

to establish a new camp. After a difficult but uneventful journey, the 
SEABEEs and their protectors arrived at Kannack.the site of an old French 
fort, and began the construction project. Two months later, Lieutenant 
Frauenfelder and his twelve men had built a fortification system with 
underground ammunition and communication bunkers, camp buildings, 
and an airfield capable of accommodating C-123 transports. STAT 0504 
next traveled with their equipment by road to Qui Nhon, from there to 
Nha Trang by LST, and finally on land again thirty miles southward to 
Dong Ba Thin. There the team devoted their attention to developing a 
landing strip for transport aircraft. When the unit departed South Vietnam 
in August 1964, after a seven and one-half month tour, the airfield was 
receiving vital logistic aircraft. 

Unfinished tasks and new projects were soon handled when STAT 
1004 arrived at Dong Ba Thin in August. For the remainder of the year 
Lieutenant (j.g.) William F. Pitcher's team worked on installations and 
defensive works at the Special Forces camp and extended the 3,000-foot 
airstrip. Much of the work was accomplished despite frequent rains and 
flooding. During September a detachment of the team deployed to a post 
on the Cambodian border at A Ro, where the men performed military 
construction. The team was again split when one detachment briefly 
remained at Dong Ba Thin while two others carried out building tasks at 
Tay Ninh northwest of Saigon and at Tan Son Nhut Airfield. At the end 
of the team's deployment period, in February 1965, vital construction on 
three "Green Beret" camps was completed. 

Although civic action was important for the teams working under the 
aegis of the Army's Special Forces, for the USOM-supported STATs it was 
the primary goal. To continue the already established program, STATs 
0903 and 0904 deployed to South Vietnam in April 1964. The first of 
these SEABEE teams, led by Lieutenant (j.g.) Roger E. Wiedmer, spent 
their seven-month tour providing a wide range of assistance to the 
populace around Quang Ngai city. This aid included medical treatment of 
fifty patients daily and the construction and repair of roads, bridges, wells, 
and schools. 

Lieutenant (j.g.) Allen N. Olsen's STAT 0904 did similar work in the 
vicinity of Hue and Quang Tri. During the team's Southeast Asian 
deployment. Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Roger C. Necas provided 

Naval Support to the Counterins urgency Struggle 353 

medical help to over 3,700 South Vietnamese. The team's construction 
efforts also were designed to promote the economic and environmental 
betterment of the local people. One of STAT 0904 's most important 
projects was the erection near Quang Tri of a sawmill, using equipment 
that had not been assembled since its shipment from the United States in 
1956. Despite its non-military construction, the team's activities con- 
cerned the enemy. On 19 June the Viet Cong ambushed three SEABEEs 
and seriously wounded Petty Officer R. L. Bowers. Fortune was with the 
SEABEEs on another occasion, however. The team departed the site near 
Hue — at Nam Dong — one month before the Viet Cong all but overran 
the Special Forces camp there on 6 July, killing 55 South Vietnamese, 2 
Americans, and 1 Australian advisor. 

The attempt to win the "hearts and minds" of the South Vietnamese 
people for their government continued when STATs 0505 and 0506 
relieved their predecessors in October 1964. Team 0505, led by 
Lieutenant Lowell H. Ruff, completed the sawmill begun by STAT 0904 
at Quang Tri and began to move to a new site at Phan Rang, in Ninh 
Thuan Province. At that point, however, the unit was caught by the 
torrential rains and catastrophic flood which hit the northern part of South 
Vietnam in November 1964. For the remainder of the year the SEABEEs 
and their heavy equipment were convoyed by road, with great difficulty, 
to their destination. Flood relief assistance to the people in the Phan Rang 
area consumed the team's efforts in the first part of 1965. Distribution of 
emergency supplies, repair of roads, culverts, and bridges, and removal of 
debris were major tasks. Before the team departed the country in early 
May 1965, it was able to prepare the seventeen-acre site for a New Life 
Hamlet, formerly called a Strategic Hamlet, whose inhabitants had fled 
from enemy controlled areas. 

The SEABEEs of STAT 0506, commanded by Lieutenant (j.g.) William 
H. Roche, also began their deployment to South Vietnam's northern 
region in the midst of the monsoon flood. Based at Quang Ngai city, the 
team coordinated relief efforts with a sideband radio. Food and emergen- 
cy supplies were called in via airlift from Saigon and delivered through 
flood waters with the unit's earth-moving equipment and other heavy 
vehicles. In addition to post-flood recovery activities, STAT 0506 
personnel sank ten wells, erected five single-span bridges, and built a 

354 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

road. The paramount mission of civic action was continued with improve- 
ments to orphanages, schools, and hospitals and highlighted by the 
provision of medical assistance to almost 3,000 South Vietnamese. These 
SEABEEs left the country in May 1965. 

Through the end of 1964, the SEABEEs accomplished many projects 
aimed at improving the economic plight and increasing the security of the 
population under government control. At fifty-two separate locations 
throughout the country the naval constructionmen completed work on 11 
airstrips, 298 miles of road, and 87 bridges and repaired 18 more bridges, 
drilled 35 wells, designed and built 36 New Life Hamlets, and trained 
1,800 Vietnamese in their trades. In addition, the SEABEEs built 
numerous fortifications and Special Forces camps. Civic action work on 
schools, dispensaries, orphanages, and other facilities, as well as flood 
relief activities, was considerable. 

The accomplishments of the STATs and the well drilling detachments 
were widely recognized. For example. Senator Hubert H. Humphrey 
apprised Congress on 21 August that the STAT program was "an 
impressive success." He added: 

The STAT has been called the military peace corps and the reasons for 
comparison are obvious. Like the Peace Corps, the STAT put something 
into the country: They develop human resources. Such a contribution is 
valuable indeed. Dollar for dollar, the STAT program has been called 
one of our best overseas investments.'"* 

A USOM official found their work the "finest form of civic action that 
could have been done by any military unit in this country so far."" 

'■'Quoted in COMCBPAC, ■Helping Others Help Themselves,^ p. 139. 

"Quoted in Naval History Division, ■■History of U.S. Naval Operations Vietnam, 1964, ■■ pp. 134- 
35. See also COMCBPAC, ■Helpmg Others Help Themselves," pp. 30-45; COMCBPAC, 
Detachment Republic of Vietnam, Completion Report, 1963-1972, pp. 3-3 — 3-5, 4-9, 5-5 — 5-7; 
COMCBPAC, Detachment Republic of 'Vietnam/Thailand, Completion Report, of Oct 1964, p. 5-6; 
Naval History Division, ■■History of U.S. Naval Operations Vietnam, 1964, ■■ pp. 128-33; MACV, 
Command History, 1964, pp. 78, 190; CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, pp. 328-29, 346-47; 
CBTEAM 0904, Completion Report, ser 41 of 13 Jun 1964; CBTEAM 0503, Completion Report, ser 
54 of 14 Aug; CBTEAM 0504, Completion Report, ser 55 of 20 Aug; CBTEAM 0904, Completion 
Report, ser 141 of 20 Nov; CBTEAM 1004, Completion Report, ser 60 of 3 Mar 1965; CBTEAM 
1003, Completion Report, ser 17 of 20 Mar; CBTEAM 0505, Completion Report, ser 4905 of 5 
May; CBTEAM 0506, Completion Report, ser 42 of 19 May 1964; Kelley, I'.S. Army Special Forces, 
pp. 54-57; Flag Plot Briefer, of 16 Nov; memos, OP-33A to OP-09A of 13 Nov 1964; OP-333E to 

Naval Support to the Counterinsurgency Struggle 355 

Although the STAT and other U.S. programs attained a measure of 
success, the overall U.S. -South Vietnamese civic action campaign faltered 
during the tumultuous months of 1964. The ineffective execution of the 
program by the South Vietnamese bureaucracy, the instability of the 
political leadership, and the growing presence of North Vietnamese in the 
South left U.S. policymakers gravely concerned over the course of the 

Protection of U.S. Ships and Installations 

Not only were American leaders concerned about the failing counterin- 
surgency effort in the countryside, but also the increasing threat to U.S. 
ships in the country's ports and rivers and to installations in the cities. For 
instance, at 0515 on 2 May 1964, Viet Cong saboteurs mined the MSTS 
aircraft ferry Card, which had just offloaded planes and helicopters at the 
Saigon waterfront. The explosion tore a 28-foot hole in the starboard side. 
The civilian crew suffered no casualties, but the ship's engine room 
flooded and Card settled to the bottom in 48 feet of water. Captain 
Friedman and naval officers from the Military Assistance Command 
immediately initiated emergency damage control measures, saving Card 
from progressive flooding and possible capsizing in the Saigon shipping 
channel.*'' The next day, a Vietnamese LDNN team determined that 
several small, electrically detonated mines, often used by the Viet Cong, 
apparently caused the explosion. The saboteurs evidently approached 
their target through a sewer main which emptied into the Saigon River 
under the pier about 50 feet from the blast area.*" 

Admiral Thomas Fi. Moorer, Commander Seventh Fleet, placed Rear 
Admiral Russell Kefauver, Commander Service Squadron 3, under the 
Service Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, in charge of Card'^ salvage. Four divers 
arrived from the Philippines and the salvage ship Reclaimer reached Saigon 
on 5 May. Assisted by the Vietnamese Navy, the salvage force made 
temporary repairs and refloated Card. On 20 May, only a fortnight after 
the mining, the ship departed Saigon for the Philippines, towed by fleet 

OP-002, of 24 Nov; COM7FLT, Command Histor>', 1964, p. 10; msg, CPFLT 022029Z Dec 1964; 
Blaufarb, The Counterinsurgency Era, pp. 205-25; Don, Our Endless War, pp. 125-37. 

^•^Msgs, HSAS 020500Z May 1964; MACV 030214Z; Friedman, Interview. 

^"Msg, HSAS 0707 15Z May 1964. 

356 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

ocean tug Tauakoni (ATF-114). Five months later, Card was back at sea 
with the Military Sea Transportation Service. Immediately after the Card 
incident, Admiral Moorer diverted destroyer Lyman K. Swenson, then 
enroute to Yokosuka, to Saigon for a two-day visit to show that the United 
States would not be intimidated by sabotage.^* 

A second incident occurred on 3 June. Civilian crew members of SS A 
and J Mid-America abandoned the old Liberty ship in Saigon harbor when 
they were not paid on time and accepted as true rumors that the ship's 
owner was bankrupt. During the next few days, as local thieves looted the 
ship. Ambassador Lodge requested police protection. On the 25th, Lodge 
also asked the Navy to remove the ship, which was moored in such a 
position that, if sunk, she could slide into the main channel and block 
military and commercial transportation on the vital waterway." A crew of 
twenty-five officers and men flew in from Piedmont (AD-17) to take over 
the ship. Under the command oi Piedmont's executive officer. Commander 
Lyle R. Hays, the merchant ship, in company with Tawasa (ATF-92), 
departed Saigon on 4 July. Five days later Commander Hays delivered A 
and J Mid-America to the American Consul General in Hong Kong."*" 

In a third incident, on the evening of 30 October, guards captured a 
young saboteur near the USNS Muskingum (T-AK-198) tied up in Danang 
harbor. He carried a bomb concealed in his school books and had orders 
to "get" the ship or a nearby MSTS LST beached forward oi Muskingum. 
Muskingum's captain was appalled by the close call. He termed Vietnamese 
security for his ship "practically nil," and declared that he would anchor 
out in the harbor on his next visit to Danang rather than risk another 

In the aftermath of each of these incidents, both U.S. and Vietnamese 
authorities took steps to improve port security. In May the Vietnamese 
increased river patrol vessels in the Saigon channel from one to four 
vedettes, placed two other patrol boats on twenty-four-hour alert, and 
ordered divers to make random underwater inspections of ship hulls. Sea 
Force ships and Vietnamese Air Force planes continued to escort all 
vessels up the river to Saigon."*^ 

"Msgs, COM7FLT 030038Z May 1964; 030214Z; HSAS 030535Z; COMDESRON9 070835Z; 
CTF73 191033Z; COMSTS 100501Z Dec. 

^'Msgs, HSAS 101140ZJun 1964; AMEMB Saigon 250245Z. 

""Msgs, COM7FLT 300809Z Jun 1964; CTU73.4.2 090145Z Jul. 

"'Msg, COMSTSFE 090555Z Nov 1964. See also CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, p, 335. 

"■Msgs, CP 022233Z May 1964; COMUSMACV 210259Z. 

Naval Support to the Counterinsurgency Struggle 357 

On 29 July Admiral Sharp directed Admiral Moorer to study the 
vulnerability of the Saigon harbor and river channel to Viet Cong mining. 
The study concluded that the many sharp turns on the forty-six-mile 
channel from Vung Tau to Saigon made the route particularly vulnerable 
to Viet Cong mines. The turning point at the Ben Nghe Canal, on the 
southern border of the city, posed a special danger, since here a mine 
could be detonated under a ship while it was virtually dead in the water 
and broadside to the main channel. Most of the commercial port of Saigon 
was downstream of this point, but a large ship sunk at the mouth of the 
Ben Nghe Canal could block the up-river transit of all but the smallest 
craft and embarrass the governments of the United States and South 

In September CINCPACFLT reported that clearance from certain 
sections of the Saigon shipping channel of a 10,000-ton merchantman, 
severely damaged and submerged as a result of mining, would be 
extremely difficult "if it could be cleared at all.'"^'* He proposed the 
activation and stationing in Subic Bay of two salvage lifting ships ( ARSD) 
and one salvage craft tender ( ARST) and the creation of a nucleus harbor 
clearance unit of two officers and twenty-five men. Action on this 
proposal, however, was deferred. At the same time, serious thought was 
given to dredging an alternate shipping channel to Saigon which would 
follow the Soirap River all the way from the sea. However, studies 
concluded that while the straighter and wider river would be easier to 
secure, the waterway's tendency to silt up would make it difficult to keep 
open. The most significant result of these studies was to inspire the 
Vietnamese to heed U.S. advisor recommendations and begin regular 
mine sweeps of the river approaches. ""^ 

HSAS was responsible for the security of the cargos once they were 
unloaded from the ships. Pilferage was always a problem, particularly 
during the transit of non-containerized goods from the docks to the 
warehouse. Exchange and commissary goods, such as televisions and 
radios, were especially prized by thieves. Several local stevedore compa- 
nies, owned by Vietnamese generals, were suspected of complicity and, in 

■"Msg, CPFLT 010218Z Aug 1964. 

""Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 73/00686 of 3 Sep 1964. 

"Msg, CP 010218Z Aug 1964; Itr, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 73/00686 of 3 Sep; CINCPAC, 
Command History, 1964, pp. 336-37; Bronars, Interview. 

358 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

several cases, HSAS flatly refused to employ some of the more suspect 
firms. Military policemen were assigned to ride trucks from the port to the 
warehouse and officers at the port carefully checked manifests as the cargo 
was unloaded. On the other hand, Captain Friedman felt that, in many 
cases, goods were missing even before the ship reached Saigon and were 
probably lost in the Philippines. 

Terrorist attacks on U.S. facilities ashore also increased in 1964. The 
first serious incident occurred at Pershing Field, an athletic facility run by 
FISAS. During a baseball game in February, a Viet Cong device exploded 
in the bleachers, killing two Americans and wounding twenty-five other 
persons. Witnesses noted that the Vietnamese children who usually played 
around the field disappeared before the blast. Because it was impossible to 
provide future security for such a large open area, FiSAS reluctantly 
closed the facility. Not more than a week after the Pershing Field attack, a 
Viet Cong suicide squad gunned down a military policeman guarding the 
door of the Capital Kin Do Theater and placed a bomb in the lobby, while 
Vietnamese and Americans watched a Sunday afternoon movie. Alerted 
by the attack. Captain Donald E. Koelper, USMC, leaped to the stage to 
warn the audience to take cover. He was still there when the bomb blast 
killed him and wounded thirty-six others. ^'' 

Logistic Support of a Growing Conflict 

The increase of U.S. military activities in South Vietnam, which placed 
great demands for support on the Fieadquarters Support Activity, Saigon, 
emphasized the need for a larger logistic establishment. FISAS, staffed by 
600 officers and men at the end of the year, was barely able to cope with 
the deployment into Vietnam of more and more U.S. units and resources. 
All departments of FiSAS experienced an increased workload. Even at the 
beginning of the year, the Port Terminal Division handled thirty ships and 
30,000 to 40,000 measurement tons of cargo each month. To prevent a 
backlog of ships in port awaiting offloading, the division took extraordi- 
nary measures. Port personnel were placed on a twelve-hour day, seven- 

""^Westmoreland, A Soldier Reports; Malcolm Browne, The New Face oj War (New York: Bobbs- 
Merrill, 1965), pp. 258-59; MACV, Command History, 1964, p. 189; New York Times, of 2 Feb 
1964; msg, COMUSMACV 161540Z Feb; Friedman, Interview. 

Naval Support to the Counterinsurgency Struggle 359 

day work-week schedule and Cargo Handling Battalion 2, of the Service 
Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, was deployed to Saigon to augment the HSAS 
personnel. Efforts also were made to acquire additional warehouse space 
near the docks. To ease the problem, the Public Works Department 
approved acquisition of 57,000 square feet of new warehouse space and 
seven 6,800 cubic foot, advanced base refrigerators in the port area. By 
the end of 1964, HSAS open storage capacity totaled 127,000 square feet, 
warehouse space 186,000 square feet, and cold storage 201,000 cubic 

Much of the increase in port operations was attributed to the expansion 
of the exchange and commissary system operated by HSAS. In May 1964 
Navy Exchange sales topped $1 million and this figure reached $1.7 
million at the end of the year. Construction of a new exchange building, 
scheduled for completion by April 1965, was begun. The field exchange 
system grew from 12 branches to over 100. To supply these field 
exchanges, the chartered private fleet of vessels was replaced by two 
Japanese-manned MSTS LSTs early in 1964. By the end of the year, these 
LSTs numbered seven and hauled 12,000 tons of supplies monthly. 

As with the other departments, the workload of the Fiscal and Supply 
Departments expanded dramatically. By July the fiscal branch was 
disbursing about $3 million in pay and allowances each month. There 
were corresponding increases in the supply workload. The main logistic 
source was located at the Naval Supply Center, Oakland, California, but 
urgent requests were sent to the Naval Supply Depots at Subic, Yokosuka, 
or Sangley Point. An inter-service support agreement allowed the Navy to 
use the Army Support Command for assistance, but according to 
Commander Lennus B. Urquhart (SC), who headed the Supply Depart- 
ment in 1964, "this proved very frustrating and we finally gave up trying 
and went Navy all the way." Even the Navy's support was sometimes 
insufficient, however. Urquhart stated that "of all the activities in the 
U.S., only Oakland seemed to understand our problems and did their best 
to meet our requirements.'"*^ 

By mid-year, the adequacy of medical facilities in South Vietnam 
became an additional concern. The anticipated increase in American 
personnel pointed to the need for greater resources. In addition. General 

"'Ltr, Urquhart to Kuntze, of 29 Dec 1965. See also HSAS, Draft History; CINCPACFLT, Annual 
Report, 26 Jun 1964 - 30 Mar 1965, pp. 65-66. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

00 ^ 

00 ao 

00 s 

2 ^ 








-* § 

s ^ 

S o« 

I- ^ 

Naval Support to the Counterinsurgency Struggle 361 

Westmoreland was dissatisfied with the fire security and physical layout of 
the Saigon Station Hospital. An alternate building was considered but 
rejected when Rear Admiral James R. Davis, the Commander Pacific 
Division, Bureau of Yards and Docks, found it unsatisfactory as well. 
Thought was given to activation of a hospital ship, but because of the poor 
security situation in the port of Saigon, and the limited berthing space 
available, this proposal too was dropped. The issue was closed when 
Admiral Ulysses S. G. Sharp, shortly after becoming CINCPAC on 30 
June 1964, reaffirmed an earlier decision to expand the existing facility. In 
the meantime, despite the crowded conditions, the Saigon Station 
Hospital continued to serve the American community. Its staff of 10 
medical officers, 2 medical service officers, 16 nurses, and 90 hospital 
corpsmen, the great majority of whom were naval personnel, performed 
admirably, especially after each major attack by the Viet Cong against U.S. 
installations during 1964.''^ 

HSAS had been established in 1962 to support a maximum of 9,000 
men. By the end of 1964 the activity supported 23,000 U.S. military 
personnel and 2,700 U.S. government civilians in 240 scattered locations. 
With the exception of fuel provision and construction assistance, accom- 
plished by large U.S. corporations under contract to U.S. government 
agencies in Saigon, HSAS provided the major common-item support to all 
U.S. forces in Vietnam. 

In July 1964, CINCPAC sought ways to increase the efficiency of the 
logistic organizations in Vietnam. Specifically, Admiral Sharp recom- 
mended that the Army establish a major logistic command which could 
take over from HSAS if contingency plans were implemented for a major 
U.S. and allied buildup in Vietnam, as anticipated. General Westmoreland 
agreed with Admiral Sharp's assessment and in late October completed his 
own study of the logistic situation. He concluded that an Army logistic 
command should be introduced immediately into Vietnam to prepare for 
the likely transition. The proposed new command would accommodate 
any increase in U.S. or SEATO troops. 

^^CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, pp. 341-44; CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, 26 Jun 1964- 
30 Mar 1965, pp. 65-98; MACV, Command History, 1964, p. 141; CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, 
10 Oct 1963-26 Jun 1964, p. 107; F. O. McClendon, Jr., "Doctors and Dentists, Nurses and 
Corpsmen in Vietnam," U.S. Naval Institute Naval Review (May 1970), pp. 278-79; msgs, CP 1 50206Z 
Jul 1964; CPFLT 290421Z Sep; CP 210348Z Nov; COMUSMACV 091022Z Dec; CP 160457Z; 
160459Z; Marolda, "Saigon" in United States Navy and Marine Corps Bases. Overseas, pp. 287-91. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 


Nurses serving with the Navy's Saigon Station Hospital receive Purple Heart medals from 
Captain Archie C. Kuntze. Commander Headquarters Support Activity, Saigon, for 
wounds they received when the Viet Cong sabotaged the Brink Bachelor Officers Quarters on 
Christmas Eve, 1964. Left to right are Lieutenant Barbara Wooster (NO. Lieutenant 
Ruth A. Mason (NO, and Lieutenant (j.gj Ann P. Reynolds (NO. 

In November the JCS directed Admiral Sharp to develop a support 
system which could expand on short notice to serve a buildup of American 
or allied forces in Vietnam. Admiral Sharp decided to use the Westmore- 
land study as the basis for his own work. Agreeing with the MACV study, 
CINCPAC concluded that "existing logistic arrangements in RVN are not 
adequate to meet present intensity of operations. Common user support 

Naval Support to the Counterinsiirgency Struggle 363 

concept currently being followed in RVN does not provide all of the 
common user supply nor has it established the necessary retail facilities 
and services."^'' Admiral Sharp also concurred with the recommendation 
to deploy an Army logistic command to Vietnam. He thought that 
additional manpower for command and control functions and for mainte- 
nance and supply support in up-country locations was needed. Admiral 
Sharp believed that HSAS should be integrated into the logistic command, 
but only after the new command was fully established and operating. He 
felt that the need was so great that the Army command should be 
deployed immediately, even before resolution of the question of support 
for the allied nations which might be sending forces to Vietnam. ^° 

On 9 December 1964, however, the JCS informed Sharp that the 
Department of the Army was reluctant to assume the large personnel and 
budgetary responsibility associated with the Army takeover of all common 
logistic support in Vietnam. Therefore, the JCS directed Sharp to plan for 
a smaller Army logistic command to augment the U.S. Army Support 
Group which had been in Vietnam since 1962. The new unit would have 
the initial function of supporting only Army units, but its responsibilities 
subsequently could be expanded. As the command gradually took over all 
the common support duties of HSAS, the Navy's activity would be phased 

As also requested by the JCS, Admiral Sharp directed General 
Westmoreland to prepare a more comprehensive logistic plan. The 
MACV document identified a number of deficiencies in HSAS support 
resulting from the rapid growth of the number of U.S. military personnel 
in Vietnam. The plan identified inadequate supervision of U.S. cargo 
shipped to isolated ports and airfields as a problem. Even in Saigon, there 
was insufficient maintenance support of vehicles, radios, small arms, office 
machinery, and utilities and an absence of certain categories of common 
supply items, such as medical, automotive, electronic, munitions, and 
construction material. Many items had to be procured on the local 
economy. The fifteen logistic support systems operating in Vietnam 
overlapped, particularly in the supply of goods from Saigon to up-country 
locations. This developed because HSAS limited its support primarily to 
the Saigon area, with the major exception of commissary and exchange 

"'Msg, CP 272339Z Nov 1964, 

'"Msgs, CP 150116Z Nov 1964; JCS 190047Z; CP 272339Z; HSAS 311315Z Dec; CINCPAC, 
Command History, 1964, pp. 329-33; 1965, p. 550. 

364 United States Naiy and Vietnam Conflict 

goods. The proposed Army logistic command would be able to centralize 
military construction, medical services, maintenance, and transportation 
throughout Vietnam. The final MACV plan, which Admiral Sharp 
considered a realistic guideline, was submitted to theJCS on 21 December 
1964. To support a 40,000-man U.S. and allied buildup, which was one 
contingency considered, an Army logistic command of 2,100 men was 
required. HSAS would not be phased out immediately, but planning 
would begin for a gradual turnover of responsibilities to the Army 

TheJCS approved this plan for Vietnam on 15 January 1965. They sent 
it on to the Secretary of Defense for approval with the recommendation 
that an advance party of 230 men be deployed immediately. Cyrus Vance, 
Deputy Secretary of Defense, replying to theJCS recommendations of 27 
January, expressed general agreement with the overall proposal. Due to 
his concern, however, that the JCS proposals only added another 
organization to the existing structure, he sent the Deputy Assistant 
Secretary of Defense for Installations and Logistics, Glen Gibson, to 
Vietnam for an on-site survey. Gibson departed Washington on 29 
January, stopping in Hawaii for a briefing by Admiral Sharp, and returned 
to Washington on 5 February. His report concurred in general with the 
JCS recommendations but noted that any major augmentation of U.S. 
forces was "limited by availability of facilities and will continue to be so 
limited until additional funds are made available." He echoed Captain 
Friedman's complaints that "many of the present difficulties result from 
peacetime funding procedures and crash organization concepts."" Gibson 
was particularly impressed with the use of Vietnamese personnel and 
American contractors by HSAS, thus holding down the number of U.S. 
military personnel required. HSAS employed three times as many 
Vietnamese as Americans and contracted with corporations such as 
Vinnell, Philco, and Pacific Architects and Engineers for specialized 
support. He agreed with the new U.S. Ambassador, Maxwell Taylor, that 
the contractor organizations should be expanded before increasing U.S. 
military personnel levels. Based on Gibson's report, Vance approved "in 
principle" the introduction of a U.S. Army logistic command, but 
authorized an advance deployment of only seventy-five men. He directed 

■"CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, pp. 329-33; 1965, pp. 550, 552; msgs, CP 162340Z Dec 
1964; 240120Z; 240121Z; COMUSMACV 301205Z. 
"JCS Paper 2343/486-11, p. 56. 

Naval Support to the Counterinsurgency Struggle 365 

theJCS to draw up a new proposal for staffing the logistic command that 
avoided a large increase in U.S. personnel. The first increment of the 
Army logistic command arrived in Vietnam in March 1965. Finally, in 
1966, the functions of HSAS were transferred to the Army's organization, 
as planned." 

Beginning in early 1964, the Johnson administration considered covert 
military actions against North Vietnam necessary to support the counterin- 
surgency struggle in the South. Hence, the limited 34A program was 
launched. Nonetheless, President Johnson continued to emphasize the 
primacy of the campaign within South Vietnam. In this context, the 
Navy's Headquarters Support Activity, Saigon, SEABEEs, and fleet units 
worked to enhance South Vietnamese internal security. It became 
increasingly apparent, however, that despite U.S. and Vietnamese efforts, 
the anti-Communist campaign was failing. Measures to strengthen the 
allied logistic base in the South later in the year, which reflected the 
increased presence of American forces in-country, coincided with a search 
for new solutions to the expanding conflict. 

"Memo, Deputy SECDEF to Chairman JCS, of 12 Feb 1965; Friedman, Interview; JCS Paper 
2343/486-1 1; Edwin B. Hooper, Mobility. Support, Endurance: A Story of Naval Operational Logistics in 
the Vietnam War, 1965-1968 (Washington: Naval History Division/GPO, 1972), pp. 25-28. 


Fleet Air Operations Over Laos 

During 1964 U.S. leaders increasingly doubted that the counterinsurgen- 
cy campaign in South Vietnam and the covert program in the North were 
sufficient to deter North Vietnamese support of the Viet Cong. Greater 
consideration now was given to the conduct of military actions by 
American conventional forces. Within this context, senior naval officers 
gave particular attention to maritime measures. In mid-January Vice 
Admiral Alfred G. Ward, Deputy Chief of Naval Operations (Plans and 
Policy), issued a study proposing steps to be taken to pressure the North 
Vietnamese. The Navy's chief planner suggested the implementation of 
various actions in sequence, proceeding from warnings and movement of 
forces to covert and overt activities by South Vietnamese armed forces. 
These latter measures included sabotage, coastal raiding, harassment of 
shipping, small-scale amphibious landings, and air strikes in ascending 
degrees of intensity. Another sequence involved the introduction of South 
Vietnamese ground forces into southern Laos to interdict infiltration. In 
the final sequence, direct and overt actions by U.S. naval forces would 
escalate from show of force deployments, intensive air and sea reconnais- 
sance over and off North Vietnam, and harassment of shipping, to overt 
attacks on the North. These latter operations included the isolation of 
Haiphong, the country's major port, through aerial mining, the sinking of 
a block ship in the narrow approaches, and the imposition of a naval 
blockade. Another option proposed was the bombing of airfields, bridges, 
naval facilities, and critical components of the industrial sector. Admiral 
Ward believed that the program would have a positive effect on North 
Vietnamese policymaking. He observed that 

should destruction of North Vietnam's facilities be undertaken, the 
North Vietnamese means to a better future, as they see it, will be 
shattered. The government has nothing to offer as a substitute except, 
possibly, defense of the fatherland — a theme not too impressive to the 
general Vietnamese population. Accordingly, it can be expected that an 


Fleet Air Operations Over Laos 367 

erosion of the authority of the regime and NVN economy would 
result. ' 

On 22 January 1964 the JCS recommended that necessary steps be 
taken to convince the Communists of the unequivocal U.S. determination 
to preserve the existence of South Vietnam. The Joint Chiefs of Staff paper 
contained many of the actions prescribed in the Ward study and in 
Admiral Anderson's similar proposals of July 1962 and concluded that the 
"United States must be prepared to put aside many of the self-imposed 
restrictions which now limit our efforts, and to undertake bolder actions 
which may embody greater risks."" 

While the Secretary of Defense deferred action on the JCS proposals, 
the concept of direct measures against the North remained under serious 
consideration. In late February 1964 the military chiefs reiterated their 
recommendation for a stronger military policy. Admiral Ricketts, repre- 
senting Admiral McDonald in JCS deliberations, observed that the 
American position as leader of the non-Communist world was deteriorat- 
ing and that the passage of time would favor the Communists, a view 
shared by Admiral Ward. Admiral Ricketts reasoned that military power 
was the key element in the unrelenting competition for influence among 
the nations of Southeast Asia between the Communist powers and the 
United States. Ricketts proposed the use of air and naval forces to interdict 
enemy lines of communication to the South through Laos and southern 
North Vietnam and to strike at military and economic targets in all parts of 
North Vietnam. The admiral observed that "there has not been a time in 
the past when the communists have not backed down in the face of U.S. 
force, except possibly at the beginning of the Korean conflict."^ He cited 
the Lebanon and Taiwan Strait crises of 1958, and the Cuban Missile 
Crisis of 1962 as instances where firm action had resulted in Communist 
retreat from confrontation. The admiral concluded: 

We must balance the long-range effect of our positive actions against the 
resulting small risk to buy tremendous advantages .... It seems strange 
that in the face of examples where we have used United States' military 
power and have obtained such tremendous results, we are hesitant to 

'Memo, OP-06 to SECNAV, ser 0001070P60 of 14 Jan 1964, p. 11 end. in memo, Zumwalt to 
Nitze, of 15 Jan 1964. 

^Memo, JCS to SECDEF, JCSM-46-64 of 22 Jan 1964. 
'Memo, CNO to JCS, CNOM 59-64 of 24 Feb 1964. 

368 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

use it again in the particular and serious crisis we now face .... We 
must learn how to use it as an instrument of national policy."* 

Senior officials in the Johnson administration, including the Secretary of 
Defense and the Secretary of State, feared that outright actions might 
cause Chinese Communist or even Soviet retaliation, a concern shared by 
the President.' For this reason, and because of the other possible 
international political and military ramifications of this action, U.S. 
decisionmakers were loath to commit large forces to combat in Southeast 

The Joint Chiefs, however, doubted that China would intervene in 
Southeast Asia unless U.S. actions impinged directly on that nation's 
security. Accordingly, on 2 March 1964 the JCS recommended to 
Secretary of Defense McNamara that overt military operations against 
North Vietnam be executed to dissuade the Communists from further 
support of the southern insurgency. The chiefs called for a program of 
growing intensity and increasing U.S. involvement that would include 
low-level aerial reconnaissance over Laos and North Vietnam and 
eventually strikes by South Vietnamese or American aircraft on northern 
targets. The final steps included U.S. air attacks and cross-border 
operations into Laos and North Vietnam and the mining and blockading 
of North Vietnamese ports. Admiral Ward, who played an important role 
in developing this position, recognized the possibility of Chinese involve- 
ment when he reflected on their response to similar threats in Korea and 
on the Indian border in 1962. However, he felt that risks would have to 
be accepted, noting that "if action beyond the scope of current operations 
is not initiated now it will have to be initiated later, and at greater cost."^ 

Although Admiral Ricketts doubted that Chinese intervention was 
probable, he also pointed out that this unlikely contingency could be 
countered by the United States. Until his untimely death on 6 July 1964, 
Admiral Ricketts argued that if large, enemy armies needed to be dealt 
with, U.S. and allied troops could be landed along the coasts fronting the 
Gulf of Tonkin. When the enemy reacted to this threat to his eastern 
flank, by concentrating forces there, he could be hit with crippling blows 
by U.S. air and naval forces. 

'Johnson, Vantage Point, p. 66. 

''Memo, OP-06 to SECNAV, ser 0001070P60 of 14 Jan 1964, p. 16 end. in memo, Zumwalt to 
Nitze, of 15 Jan 1964. 

Fleet Air Operations Over Laos 369 

Secretary of the Navy Paul H. Nitze also felt that a coordinated 
program of escalating pressures by the United States would bring about a 
North Vietnamese retrenchment, without the danger of Chinese interven- 
tion. He observed that 

in the case of North Vietnam with her exposed position to the combined 
assault of U.S. air and naval power, there is little that she could do to put 
the outcome of a military conflict in doubt. In other words, the balance 
of combat power would favor the United States so greatly that 
regardless of what North Vietnam did we would prevail in a compara- 
tively short period of time.^ 

At the same time, Admiral Ricketts observed that "there is no question 
but what we could flatten Laos and North Vietnam were such to be 
necessary, but the harvest of reaction that the United States would reap is 
an undesirable prospect to contemplate when lesser heroic actions offer 
probability of being effective." The naval leader felt that "we can get the 
signal across to Hanoi without too much difficulty" through the moderate 
application of force. He reaffirmed the "Navy's recommendation for 
measured and graduated response enunciated by Admiral McDonald and 
me in the forum of the JCS."^ 

Admiral Ricketts addressed the fears of others in the defense establish- 
ment over becoming mired in a land war on the continent of Asia. In an 
exchange of correspondence with the noted newspaper columnist Walter 
Lippman, the admiral stated that the use of large numbers of ground 
troops was unnecessary in the current situation. He reasoned that because 
of their elongated shapes and respective positions on the Indochinese 
peninsula, both North and South Vietnam and southern Laos "are 
accessible to the sea, and most targets are within reach of our sea based 
and land based air." Hence, the enemy's lines of communication in these 
countries were "relatively easy to interdict."' The admiral also observed 
that the limited measures taken to date in South Vietnam failed to prevent 
Viet Cong depredations. The Vice Chief of Naval Operations stressed that 
if protection of South Vietnam required "escalation of the war into North 
Vietnam, then that must be done, because it is from North Vietnam that 

^Memo, SECNAV to SECDEF (transmitted orally on 12 Jun 1964) end. in memo, OP-60 to 
SECNAV, ser 000493 P60 of 12 Jun. 

"Draft memo, CNO(OP-09) to SECNAV, of 9 Jun 1964. 
'Ltrs, Rickens to Lippmann, of 4 and 24 Jun 1964. 

370 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

the vast majority of the guerrillas are coming." He concluded that "it 
would be militarily acceptable to use our overwhelming power in such 
gradually escalating actions that North Vietnam cessation could come 
before the destruction of their country."'" 

The Cautious Approach Continues 

Other military leaders were not convinced that the risk of Chinese 
reaction in the face of overt actions against North Vietnam and Laos could 
be largely dismissed. In fact, this threat had much to do with the cautious 
and limited application of the measures ultimately adopted. Admiral Felt 
concluded, for instance, that the imposition of a naval blockade of 
Haiphong probably would generate Chinese air attack on the American 
naval force conducting the operation. CINCPAC added that this step "is 
neither a suitable nor an acceptable action unless taken in conjunction with 
other actions. [One] of the necessary conjunctive actions would be to gain 
control of the air in the area of operations."" The JCS, as well, made it 
clear that if strong actions against the North were taken, the United States 
would have to be prepared for a higher level of warfare and all its possible 
consequences. The military command in Saigon also was unenthusiastic 
about initiating overt hostile acts against North Vietnam, due to the 
possibility that the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese would intensify their 
assault on the already beleaguered South Vietnamese forces. 

The political situation in South Vietnam and in the United States during 
the spring and summer of 1964 also deterred American escalation. Many 
key U.S. civilian leaders, with the notable exception of Ambassador 
Lodge, were reluctant to deepen U.S. involvement by spreading the 
conflict to North Vietnam when the South Vietnamese government, 
indeed the society itself, might collapse. Another factor noted by some 
observers was the approaching presidential election in the United States 
and lack of strong domestic support for expanding hostilities into North 
Vietnam. Rear Admiral Henry L. Miller, CINCPAC's Assistant Chief of 
Staff for Plans, observed shortly after McNamara's visit to Hawaii in 

"Msg, CP 2803 IIZ Feb 1964. Subsequently, Admiral Felt expressed his opinion that Chinese 
intervention probably would not have occurred. See Felt, Interview, Vol. 11, pp. 627-28, 638-39; 
CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, p. 361. See also JCS, Hisior}', pt. 1, p. 9-11. 

Fleet Air Operations Over Laos 371 

March that "from what goes on to date, I do not believe Washington is 
going to approve any strikes against North Vietnam. This is an election 

At the same time, Admiral Felt and COMUSMACV believed that the 
counterinsurgency campaign in South Vietnam should be enthusiastically 
pursued before initiating stronger actions against the North. These 
officers believed that the covert air and naval operations embodied in 
Operation Plan 34A, if fully and properly executed, should do much to 
moderate North Vietnamese behavior. Admiral Felt stated: "I think that 
Hanoi can be influenced to quit the Communist overt military action in 
SVN" if those steps were taken. He added that "if the pressures are 
applied selectively and subtly militarily, psychologically and diplomatical- 
ly, I believe that the desired effect can be attained without CHICOM 
invasion of SEASIA."^' 

All these views were taken into account during Secretary of Defense 
McNamara's visit to South Vietnam from 8 to 14 March 1964. Enroute to 
Southeast Asia he conferred with Admiral Felt. After extensive consulta- 
tion with other U.S. and South Vietnamese officials, McNamara conclud- 
ed that the policy of fighting the insurgency within South Vietnam, 
supplemented by the modest covert program against the North, should be 
continued. The secretary, at the same time, was hopeful that the Khanh 
administration in Saigon would emphasize its national mobilization and 
pacification plans. McNamara's conclusions formed the core of National 
Security Action Memo (NSAM) 288, approved by the President at the 
National Security Council meeting on 17 March. All but minor measures 
to widen the war into Cambodia, Laos, and North Vietnam were deferred. 
Thus, U.S. policy essentially remained as before. This decision was 
reaffirmed on 1 and 2 June, at a meeting in Honolulu of the chief U.S. 
civilian and military leaders concerned with Southeast Asia.''' 

During this same period, the Johnson administration initiated diplomat- 
ic communications with the North Vietnamese through J. Blair Seaborn, a 
Canadian ICC representative then in Hanoi. This intermediary was asked 

'^Ltr, Miller to Moorer, of 12 Mar 1964. Admiral Sharp also alludes to these political exigencies in 
Strategy For Defeat, p. 34, as does Westmoreland in A Soldier Reports, pp. 105-09. 

"Msg, CP 250022Z Feb 1964. 

"MACV, Command History, 1964, pp. 360-61; Flag Plot Briefers, of 28 Feb 1964; 3 Mar; Itr, 
Drachnik to Ricketts, of 13 Mar, pp. 12-13; memo, SECDEF to President, of 16 Mar; Sharp, Strategy 
For Defeat, pp. 4, 31-34; memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM000579-64 of 14 May; Johnson, Vantage 
Point, pp. 65-67; JCS, Histon; pt. 1, pp. 8-31—9-21. 

372 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

to inform the North Vietnamese that while the United States did not wish 
to escalate the conflict in Southeast Asia, it was determined to defend 
South Vietnam from Communist encroachment, even if this required 
forceful actions against the North. The nature and tone of the response by 
the Hanoi government throughout the summer of 1964 suggested that the 
North Vietnamese were not especially fearful of American military 
pressure. Still, Hanoi did not cut off this secret line of communication with 
the United States. '^ 

Although the Johnson administration all but dropped consideration of 
overt air and naval actions against North Vietnam during the spring and 
summer of 1964, military planning for this contingency continued. 
Following the issuance of NSAM 288 in March 1964, the Secretary of 
Defense called for the preparation of plans treating several possible 
courses of action in Laos, Cambodia, and North Vietnam. In response, on 
30 March, CINCPAC submitted Operation Plan 37-64, entided "Actions 
to Stabilize the Situation in the Republic of Vietnam," which after 
considerable refinement became the basic document for the proposed 
conduct of military operations against North Vietnam. Admiral Felt's plan 
embodied three major provisions: border control measures in Laos and 
Cambodia; "tit-for-tat" retaliatory actions in response to North Vietnam- 
ese attacks; and a program of graduated overt military pressures against 
the Democratic Republic of Vietnam. In each category both U.S. and 
South Vietnamese forces might be involved, but in the first two the U.S. 
role would consist of aerial reconnaissance, airlift, and advisory support 
and the ready positioning in Southeast Asia of major fleet units and other 
forces. Only in the latter phase would U.S. combat forces — two B-57 
bomber squadrons — participate in attacks on North Vietnamese targets, 
and then as reinforcement for South Vietnamese air forces. The JCS 
approved Operation Plan 37-64 on 21 April 1964. 

The issue of striking the North was kept alive by the South Vietnamese 
when General Khanh, reversing his previous stand, began strongly 
advocating open attacks on his external foe. Some U.S. officials saw this 
development as an effort to deflect attention from the chaotic domestic 
scene in South Vietnam during the late spring. To mollify the South 
Vietnamese, the U.S. leadership explored various measures for attacking 

"George C. Herring, ed., The Secret Diplomacy of the Vietnam VC'ar: The Negotiating Volumes of the 
Pentagon Papers (Austin: Univ. of Texas Press, 1983), pp. 4-35. 

Fleet Air Operations Oter Laos 373 

the Communists in Laos both by air and land. In July the JCS also 
proposed an intensification of the covert 34A operations in the North. But 
these actions were primarily intended to satisfy the South Vietnamese 
while the counterinsurgency struggle was pushed anew."' 

Developments in Laos Precipitate 
Greater U.S. Military Activity 

The policymakers in the Johnson administration who desired to bring 
pressure on the North Vietnamese through actions outside South Vietnam 
were aided by political and military events in Laos. Since the signing of the 
Geneva accords in July 1962, Laos had receded from international focus as 
the relative positions of the various contending factions remained 
essentially static. Each of the three major parties — the neutralists, the 
rightists, and the Pathet Lao — provided representatives to the coalition 
formed at Geneva but retained their power bases and geographic 
strongholds. The North Vietnamese continued to support the Pathet Lao 
with arms and material and made increasing use of southern Laos for the 
infiltration of their own men and supplies into South Vietnam. At the 
same time, the United States trained and armed through the CIA an 
effective guerrilla force of Meo tribesmen under Colonel Vang Pao. Ties 
with rightists in the government and armed forces also were maintained. 
But the political, if not military, balance had begun to swing toward the 
West. In contrast to previous assumptions, Souvanna Phouma and the 
military forces under Kong Le drew closer to the United States rather than 
to the Communists. 

'*Memo, OP-61 to OP-06, ser 000666P61 of 13 Jun 1963; Itrs, CINCPACFLT to COM7FLT, ser 
32/00844 of 1 Oct; CINCPACFLT to CINCUSARPAC, ser 62/000257 of 14 Nov; OP-09, memo 
for record, ser 001 1P09 of 10 Feb 1964; memos, Sharp to Felt, of 14 Feb; OP-09 to OP-06, of 22 
Feb; OP-60 to OP-06, ser BM000395-64 of 25 Feb; OP-60 to CNO, ser 000398-64 of 28 Feb; msgs, 
SECSTATE 3:53PM 17 Feb 1964; CP 242253Z Apr; 1:34AM 2 Jun; VCNO, memo for record, ser 
00043P09 of 27 Jun; memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM000952-64 of 29 Jun; Itr, Zumwalt to Moorer, 
of 16 Jul; JCS, History, pt. 1, pp. 8-27—8-31, 9-1—9-23, 9-33—10-33; MACV, Command History, 
1964, p. 160; U.S.-\\N. Relations, bk. 3, pt. IVC.2(a), pp. 5-40; bk. 4, pt. IVC.2(b), pp. ii, iii, 1-4; 
CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, pp. 49-52, 54-56, 61-64, 82-92, 360; JCS Papers 2343/326, 
329, 330, 332, 345, 346, 348, 350, 367, 382, 384, 392, 394, 797; 2319/114; 2054/627-5; Felt, 
Interview, pp. 623-29; William Momyer, Airpouer in Three Wars (Washington: USAF, 1978), pp. 14- 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

North Vietnam 

Gulf Tonkin 

South Vietnam 


Laotian Panhandle 

This development was brought about in 1962 when the Soviets ended 
their direct airlift of supplies and arms to the neutralists and rerouted them 
through the North Vietnamese. Attempting to exert political control of 
the neutralists, the North Vietnamese proved to be far from generous. 
Hence, the neutralists gradually turned to the United States to replace this 
interrupted logistic support. When outright hostility between the Commu- 
nists and the neutralists ensued in March and April of 1963, the shaky 
coalition government dissolved. Thereafter, Souvanna and his neutralist 
allies governed Laos. 

Fleet Air Operations Over Laos 375 

At the beginning of 1964, several events dramatically altered the 
situation in Laos. The fall of the Diem government in South Vietnam, 
which prompted the North Vietnamese to accelerate the war in the South, 
necessitated increased use of the Ho Chi Minh Trail in southern Laos for 
the infiltration of men and supplies. To accommodate the surge, North 
Vietnamese and Pathet Lao forces, in January, began a successful 
campaign to push government forces further away from the border area. 
These operations weakened Souvanna's credibility as the leader of the 
Laotian government. 

On 19 April rightists ousted Souvanna in a swift coup. After U.S. 
insistence, the new leaders were compelled to reinstate Souvanna as head 
of the government, but they retained actual control of the governmental 
apparatus. As the non-Communist factions became decidedly more pro- 
American, the Communists opened attacks on Kong Le's forces in mid- 
May and soon drove them from the Plain of Jars. At the same time, 
Souvanna skillfully integrated his neutralist political organization and 
Kong Le's forces with those of the rightists to form a new government that 
was closely associated with the United States. 

During the April coup in Laos, Secretary of State Rusk, who was 
visiting Saigon at the time, proposed stationing fleet units at either 
Danang or Cam Ranh Bay to demonstrate U.S. support to both the 
Laotian and South Vietnamese governments and possibly deter Commu- 
nist activity. The JCS did not concur in this proposal. As an alternative, 
however, the military chiefs recommended periodic and temporary fleet 
sorties into South Vietnamese waters. Specifically, they endorsed adoption 
of Admiral Felt's concept of deploying a carrier task group for several days 
in an area 200 miles in diameter that would bring the force as close as 30 
miles from Hainan and 75 miles from North Vietnam's Cape Lai. This 
force, whose air operations "would be painted on Communist radar 
screens,"'^ was intended to deter the other side. In accordance with this 
concept, a task group built around aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk proceeded to 
the South China Sea on 22 April 1964. On the next day, with Souvanna 
back in power, the formation was ordered to return to normal operations, 
but to remain within forty-eight hours steaming time of a point off South 

'^Msg, CP 222333Z Apr 1964. COMUSMACV also stressed that the force should sail close to 
North Vietnamese waters. See msgs, COMUSMACV 231020Z Apr 1964; SECSTATE 200208Z. 

376 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Vietnam at 16° north 110° east. This position soon became known as 
Point Yankee or Yankee Station.'® 

Connected with the possibility of an extended naval presence in 
Southeast Asia was Ambassador Lodge's suggestion on 2 May for an 
austere naval facility at Cam Ranh Bay, "that the layman would call a 'U.S. 
Naval Base' [and where] the flag would fly"''' to signal the fleet's 
presence. The Cam Ranh base had other potential uses. During a visit to 
Saigon, on 1 1 May, General Taylor met with the U.S. Ambassador, who 
suggested a course of action, in the event Khanh was ousted or 
assassinated. Lodge 

suggested the possible need of a U.S. presence to take over and run the 
government. In such a case, he thought a naval base at Cam Ranh Bay 
might be used as a U.S. headquarters external to Saigon. He apparently 
feels that in a situation of civil turmoil, the U.S. facilities in Saigon 
would not be available.'" 

Although Admiral Felt was concerned about immobilizing a large naval 
force at Cam Ranh Bay, he believed that the idea of stationing some fleet 
units there had merit. First, however, he recommended that CINC- 
PACFLT conduct a careful, comprehensive survey of the bay and its 
environs. By its nature, the survey would be time-consuming and 
prolonged. In the meantime, the immediate need for a naval presence 
would be served by the ships and aircraft of the survey team. 

Following JCS approval, on 9 May 1964, CINCPAC directed his fleet 
commander to conduct the required survey. Soon afterward, Nha Trang 
and Ben Goi were included in the locations to be evaluated. The first 
phase of the program to determine the area's suitability as a fleet 
anchorage and amphibious training location began at the end of the month 
when an RA-3B Skywarrior overflew Cam Ranh Bay on an aerial 
photographic mission. Other flights by Seventh Fleet aircraft followed. In 

"*In 1966 Yankee Station was shifted to 17 30'N 108 30'E. Memos, OP-61 to CNO, ser BM00154- 
63 of 31 Jan 1963; SECNAV to SECDEF, of 4 May; OP-60 to CNO, ser BM000566-64 of 24 Apr 
1964; OP-61 to SECNAV, ser 000624P61 of 29 Apr; msgs, CPFLT 230207Z Apr 1963; CP 
012332Z May; JCS 221512Z Apr 1964; CP 222137Z; COMUSMACV 23I02OZ; CP 231427Z; 
242149Z;JCS 2821 IIZ; Flag Plot Briefers of 22 and 23 Apr; CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, 
pp. 259-69; Stevenson, End of Nouhere, pp. 180-205; Roland A. Paul, "Laos: Anatomy of an American 
Involvement," Foreign Affairs (Apr 1971), pp. 533-47. 

'''Msg, AMEMB Saigon 021052Z May 1964. 

^%S Paper 2343/379, end. A, p. 1. 

Fleet Air Operations Over Laos "ill 

June, Currituck (AV-7), a seaplane tender, carried out the first surface 
survey of all three locations. When, in July, Cam Ranh Bay was 
determined to be the most valuable for use by fleet seaplanes. Mine 
Flotilla 1 with Epping Forest (MCS-7), Mine Divisions 31, 32, and 33, 
Current (ARS-22), Navy explosive ordnance disposal and UDT units, and 
Marine beach survey units, swept the area for mines, made hydrographic 
studies, investigated landing beaches, and updated charts. After meeting 
with U.S. and South Vietnamese officials in Saigon, Commander Seventh 
Fleet, on board Oklahoma City, called at Cam Ranh Bay on 25 July. Vice 
Admiral Roy L. Johnson toured the area by helicopter and observed the 
site's natural advantages. At the end of August, CINCPACFLT reported 
that Cam Ranh Bay could serve as a fleet anchorage and amphibious 
exercise area. Nha Trang and Ben Goi were seen as less suitable for these 

In the second phase of the survey mission, conducted during the fall. 
Seventh Fleet Mobile Logistic Support Force (Task Force 73) units under 
Rear Admiral Joseph W. Williams, Jr., evaluated the feasibility of 
establishing an austere naval facility at Cam Ranh. After examining the 
site's ability to physically accommodate building, airfield, and fortification 
construction, Admiral Williams concluded in his 1 November report to 
Commander Seventh Fleet that the Cam Ranh area possessed the 
capability to support a limited fleet shore facility. The potential for later 
expansion also was present. 

Despite these preparations, more direct measures to influence Hanoi's 
behavior came to the fore in the latter half of 1964. For this reason, on 8 
December Admiral Sharp informed the JCS that, while Cam Ranh could 
serve a future need, there was no current requirement for a shore station 
at this location. The JCS concurred in this recommendation and the survey 
report was shelved. Ironically, it would soon be dusted off and prove 
invaluable to military planners concerned with providing a logistic support 
complex on the South China Sea for the U.S. armed forces who entered 
South Vietnam in 1965."' 

-'Msgs, AMEMB Saigon 021052Z May 1964; CPFLT 042344Z; CP 052336Z; JCS 091445Z; CP 
292016Z; CPFLT 142131ZJun; 260021Z; CP 140322ZJul; COMUSMACV 221031Z; COM7FLT 
281325Z; 182145Z Aug; 230356Z; CTF73 260350Z; CPFLT 262132Z; CP 310737Z; ADMIN 
CPFLT 050447Z Sep; COM7FLT 110359Z; CPFLT 201055Z; CP 080257Z Dec; COM7FLT, 
Command History, 1964, p. 7; Flag Plot Briefers, of 5 May and 2 Jun; memos, OP-60 to CNO, ser 
BM000513-64 of 6 May 1964; BM000584 of 18 May. 

378 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

Yankee Team Reconnaissance 

The search by U.S. poHcymakers in the spring of 1964 for the means to 
exhibit American mihtary strength was partially resolved in mid-May 
when the Communist attacks on the neutralists in Laos compelled 
Souvanna Phouma to seek direct U.S. assistance. The Laotian leader 
thereafter allowed American civilians to fly Laotian aircraft. He also 
authorized U.S. transport aircraft to enter the country's airspace and his air 
force to accept new delivery of U.S. -made planes. The most important 
measure, however, was his authorization of low-level reconnaissance 
flights over Laotian territory by U.S. military aircraft. 

U.S. leaders pressed for an aerial reconnaissance effort over Laos as a 
means of sending Hanoi a message of American resolve. The missions 
were required for other reasons as well. One was the obvious need for 
accurate intelligence on both Pathet Lao and North Vietnamese military 
capabilities and activities. Two geographic areas were seen as critically 
important: the Plain of Jars in central Laos and the territory to the east of it 
stretching to the North Vietnamese border; and the eastern reaches of the 
elongated Laotian panhandle. The first region contained Pathet Lao forces 
and some North Vietnamese auxiliary troops, both directed against 
Souvanna's government. North Vietnamese forces controlled the second 
area, for the most part, even though Pathet Lao units also were present 
there. Although the Pathet Lao were concerned primarily with their 
struggle against Souvanna Phouma and the North Vietnamese were intent 
on securing the Ho Chi Minh Trail that allowed them to prosecute the 
conflict in South Vietnam, this distinction in aims was blurred. Each of the 
Communist allies fought in conjunction with the other and in the same 
operational areas. 

Recent high-level flights by U.S. reconnaissance aircraft had revealed 
intensive logistic activity by the North Vietnamese in the Plain of Jars and 
the panhandle. U.S. military planners expressed the need for more 
detailed intelligence, which could only be obtained by aerial reconnais- 
sance at low level. Hence, provision for low-level photographic flights by 
U.S. aircraft was embodied in NSAM 288 and CINCPAC Operation Plan 

When Souvanna acceded to the U.S. request for periodic low-level 
flights on 17 May, the measures were quickly implemented. The next day 
the JCS directed CINCPAC to initiate the operation, soon named Yankee 

Fleet Air Operations Over Laos 379 

Team, using aircraft from the Air Force's South Vietnam-based 2nd Air 
Division and from the Navy's aircraft carriers. On 19 May the Air Force 
carried out the first "reconnaissance/show of force" mission over central 
Laos."' On the same day Kitty Hawk, carrying the flag of Rear Admiral 
William F. Bringle, Commander Carrier Division 7, arrived at Yankee 
Station. The aircraft carrier was in company with Berkeley, Samuel N. Moore 
(DD-747), Duncan (DDR-874), and soon-to-be famous Maddox (DD- 
731). Kitty Hawk's aerial reconnaissance assets initially included three RF- 
8A Crusaders and two RA-3B Skywarriors. 

On 21 May 1964, Rear Admiral Bringle received orders to execute the 
aerial reconnaissance mission over Laos. At 0800 two RF-8A aircraft from 
Light Photographic Squadron 63 launched from the carrier and made for 
the target area in the Plain of Jars. While photographing Communist road 
traffic on Routes 4,6, and 7, one of the planes was hit by ground fire over 
Xieng Khouang. Although a fire broke out on the port wing and burned 
for twenty minutes, the pilot managed to return to Kitty Hawk and land 
safely. The first of many such Yankee Team flights revealed a significant 
Communist military presence in northern Laos. 

Augmented expeditiously by 3 RF-8As from Bon Homme Richard, then 
in Subic, 2 RA-3Bs from Cubi Point, 4 RF-8As from a Marine squadron, 
and 2 EA-3Bs from Fleet Air Reconnaissance Squadron (VQ) 1 in Japan, 
the naval aircraft of the carrier task group continued operations over Laos 
during succeeding days. At the same time, Kitty Hawk provided the 
extended naval presence off Southeast Asia that was sought by Washing- 
ton. This symbolic measure was enhanced when Constellation and her 
escorts joined the Yankee Team formation off the coast on 6 June. 

Between 21 May and 9 June, Air Force and Navy Yankee Team aircraft 
conducted more than 130 flights over Laos. Most of the photographic 
reconnaissance focused on the Plain of Jars and surrounding areas, but 
approximately fifty missions were flown over the infiltration routes into 
South Vietnam. Naval aircraft normally operated north of 18 31' north, 
while Air Force RF-lOls flew south of that unofficial dividing line. The 
intelligence these units provided confirmed the extensive use of southern 
Laos by the North Vietnamese in their increasing support of the 
insurgency in South Vietnam. 

"CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, p. 269; msg, CNO 171439Z May 1964; memo, OP-60 to 
CNO, ser BM000584-64 of 18 May. 

380 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

Two weeks after the start of the reconnaissance flights, Admiral 
Moorer, Commander Seventh Fleet, concluded that Navy-Air Force 
cooperation and coordination "has been excellent and communications 
between them and Kitty Hawk have been good.""' General Westmoreland 
was assigned by CINCPAC as coordinator, rather than commander, of 
Yankee Team operations, because while he had operational control of the 
2nd Air Division at Tan Son Nhut, the Seventh Fleet units remained 
under CINCPACFLT. But, to ensure the efficient conduct of the overall 
mission. Admiral Moorer posted a mobile air control team to Saigon and 
liaison officers from each service worked with counterpart commands. 
The successful conduct of the joint operation was exemplified by the use 
oi Kitty Hatik's A-3B aerial tankers to refuel Air Force RF-lOls along the 
route to Laos. 

The Seventh Fleet commander was not equally impressed with the tight 
control over operations exercised from Washington. By this time, the 
Defense Department had fully established an elaborate command network 
for the worldwide direction of U.S. military forces known as the National 
Military Command System. This measure was prompted by the necessity 
for immediate readiness in the nuclear war environment, but the system 
also enabled close attention to conventional operations. Through the 
sophisticated National Military Command Center, located in the Penta- 
gon, theJCS could order instantaneous implementation of directives from 
the President and the Secretary of Defense. Conversely, field commands 
were obligated to submit detailed message reports of operations in their 
theater. ^^ 

Under the current Yankee Team operational procedures, the Seventh 
Fleet commander provided the national command center with proposals 
for upcoming missions thirty-six hours in advance. There, the Secretary of 
Defense closely monitored the program and made modifications that 
appeared to be appropriate. The result, as Admiral Moorer noted in a 
private letter to Admiral McDonald, was that 

our total capability has not been utilized and. ..we have been restricted as 
to the number of sorties, have been directed as to the specific type 

^'Ltr, Moorer to McDonald, of 2 Jun 1964. 

"Memo, CNO to SECNAV, ser 0004P35 of 3 Apr 1964; CNO, OPNAV Instruction 003020.7, 
"Master Plan for the National Military Command System," ser 008P35 of 22 Jul; DOD, Report to the 
Secretary of Defense on the National Military Command Structure (Washington: GPO, 1978). 

Fleet Air Operations Over Laos 381 

camera to use and have had late changes in target assignments. The 
restrictions as to the number of aircraft to use, combined with a directive 
to cover a certain area is sometimes contradictory since the aircraft 
simply do not carry sufficient film to properly cover the specified area. 
An additional aircraft is often needed to complete the job. Also, the 
present thirty-six hour advance notice is unreahstic when viewed within 
the context of tactical reconnaissance. The situation on the ground and 
the weather changes too fast.^' 

Despite these difficulties, Seventh Fleet forces carried out the missions 
assigned them. 

Shortly thereafter, a string of events began that would alter the nature 
of Yankee Team flights and signal for the Navy the start of a new era in 
Southeast Asian operations. On 6 June 1964, Lieutenant Charles F. 
Klusmann, oi Kitty Hawk's, Light Photographic Squadron 63, Detachment 
C, became the first naval aviator shot down by Communist fire in 
Southeast Asia, fiis RF-8A was photographing Pathet Lao installations in 
an area of central Laos between Khang Khay and Ban Ban referred to as 
"lead alley" because of the heavy concentration there of antiaircraft 
weapons. Making low passes to enhance the quality of the photographs, 
Lieutenant Klusmann's plane was hit by fire from a 37-millimeter 
antiaircraft gun. When the plane became uncontrollable, the naval aviator 
was forced to bail out northeast of Xieng Khouang. He passed through a 
hail of small arms fire in landing, but only suffered a wrenched knee. 
Alerted by distress calls from Klusmann's wingman, Lieutenant Jerry 
Kuechmann, American recovery aircraft quickly converged on the spot 
and attempted to rescue the pilot. The heavy fire from the ground, 
however, made the task impossible without air cover and covering aircraft 
were not within range. Klusmann was soon captured by the Pathet Lao. 

For the next eighty-six days the young lieutenant was held in captivity in 
central Laos, primarily at a location near Khang Khay. He was subjected 
by his captors to the subtle, but unrelenting psychological pressure long 
practiced by Communist interrogate s. The mental stress was exacerbated 

^'Ltr, Moorer to McDonald, of 2 Jun 1964. See also msgs, JCS 301648Z Apr; CP 190032Z May; 
CPFLT 190244Z; 190459Z; CTG77.4 210152Z; 210436Z; 210504Z; 220941Z; CP 052030Z Jun; 
JCS, NMCC Summaries, of 19, 21, 22, 30 May; CINCPAC, Command History, 1964, pp. 261-62, 
269-72; JCS, History, pt. 1, pp. 9-28 — 9-33; Seventh Fleet, Weekly Summaries, of 26 May, 9 Jun; Flag 
Plot, "Laos Chronology 17 May-17 June 1964;" memo, OP-60 to CNO, ser BM000584-64 of 18 

382 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

by his solitary confinement and debilitated physical state. He was finally 
forced to sign a contrived political statement which attacked U.S. policy in 
Southeast Asia. 

Soon afterward, the Communists confined Klusmann with other 
prisoners, mostly Laotians and Thais, at a different location. Security at 
this new compound was not as rigorous. The less than attentive vigil of his 
guards allowed him to plan an escape. After one unsuccessful, but 
undiscovered attempt to burrow out of the hut to which they were 
confined, Lieutenant Klusmann and five other Thai and Laotian prisoners 
finally succeeded. The group managed to steal away and evade Pathet Lao 
patrols, but three members became separated and were not seen again. 
Another man, in search of food, entered a village that turned out to be 
occupied by the enemy. He was led away at gunpoint to an uncertain fate. 
Finally, on 21 August 1964, three days after their escape, the naval aviator 
and his remaining companion reached friendly Meo forces near Bouam 
Long. Thus, Lieutenant Klusmann became the first, and one of the few, 
naval personnel to escape from Communist captivity during the long 
conflict in Southeast Asia.^*^ 

Klusmann's capture and interrogation by the Pathet Lao and subse- 
quent flight highlighted the importance of preparing naval personnel for 
possible imprisonment. Since 1962, the Pacific Fleet command had 
devoted considerable attention to refashioning prisoner of war proce- 
dures, especially since CINCPACFLT felt that "no doctrine or policy has 
been developed by any military service that covers the present antiguerril- 
la operations in Southeast Asia.""" Subsequently, the Pacific Fleet 
commander issued new evasion and escape materials that incorporated the 
latest intelligence on Communist interrogation methods and the geo- 
graphical characteristics of enemy-held areas. Reflecting the peculiar 
nature of the conflict in Southeast Asia, "evasion and escape" then became 
"Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape [SERE] so as to place proper 
emphasis on survival, and resistance to interrogation if captured."^® 

On 13 August 1964 the CNO promulgated a new instruction on SERE 
that superseded guidance followed since 1957. Adherence to the Code of 

"'"Klusmann was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross at the end of June 1964. "Klusmann 
Debriefing Report" end. m Itr. COMNAVAIRPAC, ser 36/0150 of 12 Feb 1965; msgs, CTG77.4 
061415Z Jun 1964; USAF 2nd Air Division 100530Z; CHINFO 301548Z; USAF 235th Tactical 
Group 011949Z Sep. 

"Ltr, CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 21/00943 of 10 Nov 1962. 

2'CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1963, p. 41. 

Fleet Air Operations Oier Laos 



Lieutenant Charles F. Klusmann. a naval aviator ivho escaped from captivity in Laos in 
August 1964. relates his experiences to Vice Admiral Roy L. Johnson. Commander Seventh 
Fleet, and an unidentified officer. 

384 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Conduct was emphasized as the basic factor determining the actions of 
naval personnel held captive in enemy territory. The document also stated 
that the experience gained from World War II, the Korean conflict, and 
the nation's still limited involvement in Southeast Asian actions demon- 
strated the need for intensified SERE training to "insure that individuals 
are provided a thorough understanding of the standards of conduct 
expected of them, and are provided the means to survive and evade if 
isolated, resist if captured, and escape from captivity if possible."^"' Fleet 
commands, type commands, and training commands were instructed to 
establish programs for all personnel, but to place priority emphasis on 
those individuals most subject to capture and imprisonment. Soon 
afterward. Commander Naval Air Force, U.S. Pacific Fleet, began SERE 
training at the North Island, Whidbey Island, and Barbers Point naval air 
stations in the United States. 

Unfortunately for Lieutenant Klusmann, this guidance was not available 
prior to his capture. Air intelligence officers on board Kitty Hawk 
provided the naval aviator with a wealth of detail on the political and 
military situations in South Vietnam, North Vietnam, and Laos, on the 
capabilities of friendly and enemy forces, and on survival, evasion, and 
escape procedures. But, with regard to resisting his interrogators, 
Klusmann was influenced by the Air Force 2nd Air Division manual, 
"E&E/Survival in South Vietnam," which recommended in essence that 
prisoners outwit their captors with false information. Following Klus- 
mann 's recovery. Admiral Moorer expressed his concern that "some 
doubt exists as to which line of resistance a pilot should follow if downed 
in SEASIA." He added that the tactic of outsmarting interrogators was 
"directly opposed to Navy policy on POW conduct which authorizes 
disclosure of name, rank, serial number and date of birth only." The 
admiral ordered that the section of the Air Force document "which 
suggests going beyond article V of the fighting men's code shall be 
disregarded by all Navy and Marine Corps personnel detained by forces 
inimical to U.S. efforts in SEASIA. "'° This advice would soon be followed 
by many naval aviators faced with the harsh and persistent interrogation of 
their Communist warders.^' 

"CNO, OPNAV Instruction 00305.1, ser 0063P34 of 13 Aug 1964. 

"Msg, CPFLT 180227Z Sep 1964. 

"Ltrs, CINCPACFLT to CINCPAC, ser 21/00866 of 15 Oct 1962; CINCPACFLT to 
CNO(DNl), ser 21/00872 of 18 Oct; CINCPACFLT to CNO, ser 21/00943 of 10 Nov; 
CINCPACFLT to CO Fleet Intelligence Center, Pacific, ser 21/00960 of 16 Nov; ser 21/001022 of 

Fleet Air Operations Over Laos 385 

The U.S. reaction to Klusmann's loss brought the level of military 
involvement in Laos one step higher. The same day Klusmann's plane was 
shot down it was decided at the highest levels of the government to 
demonstrate U.S. determination to continue the reconnaissance flights and 
to provide them with fighter escort. This response was planned and 
directed from Washington. The Secretary of Defense ordered an aerial 
photographic mission in Laos, starting on 7 June, by two reconnaissance 
aircraft and eight escorting fighters. Instructions to the Pacific military 
command further stated that the accompanying aircraft were to be armed 
with an "optimum mix of weapons for anti-aircraft suppression [and] 
authorized to employ appropriate retaliatory fire against any source of 
anti-aircraft fire against reconnaissance or escort aircraft. "^^ 

The first of these missions took place on 7 June 1964. In the early 
morning hours, one RF-8A from Constellation and four F-8D Crusaders 
from Kitty Hawk proceeded from their launching point in the South China 
Sea. Over the Plain of Jars the flight received heavy fire from the ground 
and one of the escorts sustained minor damage. In accordance with their 
new instructions, the other escorts returned fire on the antiaircraft site. 
The group then returned safely to the carrier task force. 

A second echelon planned for the same day was less fortunate. 
Mechanical trouble forced its launching to be delayed and reduced the 
number of Crusaders escorting the one RF-8A to three. This group also 
ran into flak over central Laos. At this point, an F-8D, piloted by 
Commander Doyle W. Lynn from Kitty Hawk's Fighter Squadron (VF) 
111 became the second naval aircraft to fall prey to Communist gunners 
over the Plain of Jars. Commander Lynn bailed out of his plane and 
landed safely in a wooded area thirty-five miles south of Xieng Khouang. 
Until their fuel was almost exhausted, his compatriots circled overhead. 

An air rescue effort was immediately put into effect. Having learned 
from the unsuccessful attempt to recover Klusmann, U.S. commanders 
were better prepared on this day. A group of four A-IH aircraft, kept on 
standby over Danang, was dispatched to the location, as were F-8Ds from 
the carrier task group. An A-3B served as a communications relay plane 

11 Dec 1963; Kitty Hawk, Cruise Repon, ser 0045 of 18 Jul 1964, pp. iv-19, iv-24, iv-25; CNO, 
OPNAV Instruction 00305.1, ser 0063P34 of 13 Aug; CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1964, p. 
49; FY1965, pp. 5, 25. 

"Msg, JCS 061632Z Jun 1964. 

386 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

and used its electronic equipment to pick up the pilot's signals. Guided by 
the transmissions from Commander Lynn's survival radio and flares, the 
searching aircraft finally pinpointed his location early the next day, 8 June. 
An H-34 helicopter, finding its rescue cable six feet too short to lift the 
pilot from the forest floor, and nearly crashing in the effort, finally took 
him on board at a small clearing. The uninjured naval aviator was flown to 
Udorn in Thailand and soon afterward returned to his squadron.'' 

The reaction of Secretary of Defense McNamara to the mission 
conducted on 7 June revealed Washington's desire to maintain detailed 
control of operations. Thus, McNamara questioned the decision of naval 
commanders to split the mission into separate elements and to position the 
fighter escorts above rather than below the reconnaissance aircraft, actions 
which he considered as rendering the F-8Ds more vulnerable. Fleet 
commanders responded through the Secretary of the Navy that the 
mountainous terrain and low cloud ceiling in central Laos precluded the 
type of formation that he had in mind. The Secretary of Defense also 
wondered why some Sidewinder air-to-air missiles were carried, when the 
targets were antiaircraft guns, and why only a small portion of the other 
ordnance available was expended on the enemy. The Navy answered that 
defense against possible North Vietnamese MiG intervention made it 
essential to arm several of the Crusaders with Sidewinders. The low 
expenditure of ordnance reflected Commander Seventh Fleet's belief that 
only limited retaliation against enemy antiaircraft sites was to be undertak- 
en. Washington policymakers had wanted the enemy's weapons to be 
silenced in order to convince the Communists of U.S. resolve, but their 
intentions had not been communicated effectively. Secretary of the Navy 
Paul H. Nitze concluded that in the future operational requirements 
should be more precisely stated, while commanders should be given 
"maximum practicable flexibility in manner of execution."'^ 

Having lost two aircraft in as many days, the Washington leadership 
was especially determined to demonstrate to the Communists the conse- 
quences of attacking U.S. military forces. Specifically, theJCS was directed 

''Tragically, Commander Lynn was killed the following year during a mission over Vinh, North 
Vietnam. See CINCPACFLT, "The United States Navy in the Pacific, 1965," pp. 74-75. 

'■'Memo, SECNAV to SECDEF, of 10 Jun 1964. See also msgs. SECSTATE 061625ZJun 1964; 
JCS 061632Z; 080654Z; CPFLT 081553Z; AMEMBVT 081921Z; JCS, NMCC Summary, of 8Jun; 
Flag Plot Briefers, of 8 and 9 Jun; Flag Plot, "F-8 Flap Summary, of 6 June-8 June;" Itr, Ricketts to 
Moorer, of 20 Jun. 

Fleet Air Operations Over Laos 


Si 03 







Central Laos 

to initiate retaliatory air strikes by Air Force and Navy aircraft on 
antiaircraft installations at Xieng Khouang and Khang Khay, respectively. 
On 9 June Air Force F-lOOs based in South Vietnam hit their targeted 
sight with 750-pound bombs, rockets, and cannon fire. Actual damage to 
the antiaircraft facility was not great, but the signal to Hanoi and Peking 
sought by U.S. policymakers presumably had been sent. However, the 
naval strikes at Khang Khay, planned for the following day, were 
cancelled when Souvanna Phouma requested that no further offensive 
missions be undertaken in his country. He was disturbed both by the air 
attack and by U.S. disclosure of the fact that American aircraft were 
conducting escorted reconnaissance flights over Laos. At that point, Kttty 

388 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Hawk was released for normal flight operations, leaving only one carrier, 
Constellation, at Yankee Station." 

There followed a five-day hiatus in operations as U.S. officials 
negotiated with the Laotian leader. It was only after assurances were made 
to Souvanna that the escorted reconnaissance flights would no longer be 
publicly acknowledged that he agreed to their resumption in mid-June. At 
the same time, Secretary of Defense McNamara called for a new 
"minimum risk approach" to lessen future American losses. "' Pacific naval 
leaders responded that the best way to achieve the secretary's goal was to 
give operational commanders greater flexibility in fashioning missions 
according to the strength of enemy defenses, the weather, and other 
continually changing tactical factors. CINCPAC also suggested 

that low level photo recce of well defended targets must be preceded by 
an air strike of adequate weight against the target, to be followed up 
immediately by post-strike recce supported by armed escort .... This is 
a militarily sound concept and should be adopted as the strategy .... In 
the north, I would start with anti-aircraft concentrations and raise the 
level of activity to include military camps and supply dumps if the 
[Pathet Lao/Viet Minh] do not rpt not concede to political demands 
made by our side. In the south, I would hit supply facilities and conduct 
armed recce along routes of supply.^' 

The recommendations were not accepted in Washington. But, on 16 
June, when the JCS issued new operational instructions, they directed that 
reconnaissance missions be conducted at altitudes above 10,000 feet, in 
order to remain outside the effective range of most Communist guns, 
unless it was absolutely necessary to obtain low-level photographs. 
Further, areas of high enemy antiaircraft concentrations, primarily around 
the Plain of Jars, would be avoided. Only when it was essential to obtain 
intelligence at low level in lethal areas were aircraft allowed to attack and 
neutralize antiaircraft defenses in advance of the aerial photographic 
planes. Authority for this type of operation was granted only on a case-by- 
case basis. The JCS also reiterated their requirement for prior approval in 

"Msgs, JCS 072022Z Jun 1964; AMEMBVT 081036Z; 082050Z; 082145Z; 082200Z; JCS, 
NMCC Summaries, of 9 and 10 Jun; memo, OP-60B to Executive Assistant to CNO, ser 
BM000607P60 of 8Jun; OP-601C9, Point Paper, of lOJun; Flag Plot Briefers, of 8, 9, 10, 11, 12 

"■Memo, SECNAV Aide to CNO, of 9 Jun 1964. 

"Msg, CP 122146Z Jun 1964. 

Fleet Air Operations Over Laos 389 

Washington of the purpose, time-span, number and type of planes 
involved, flying formation, tactics to be employed, altitude, and route to 
the target of each contemplated mission. For the remainder of the year, 
these instructions constituted Yankee Team standard operating proce- 
dures. Since only two Air Force and no Navy planes were lost over Laos 
by the end of 1964, this new directive apparently was effective.^* 

When aerial photographic flights over Laos were resumed by Air Force 
planes on 14 June, Constellation was positioned off the South Vietnamese 
coast, prepared to launch her aircraft. On the 19th, this carrier launched 
the first Seventh Fleet reconnaissance mission since the halt in operations 
when an RF-8A and an RA-3B, each escorted by two Crusaders, overflew 
sites in the Laotian panhandle. In line with the new operating procedures, 
greater reliance now was placed on the carrier's RA-3B Skywarriors, 
which were best suited for photography above 10,000 feet. For the more 
hazardous low-level reconnaissance, the faster and smaller RF-8As were 
used because of their ability to evade enemy flak. However, the heavy 
monsoon weather, typical in Laos during the summer months, limited 
these operations. Before her relief on 12 July, Constellation launched only 
five other aerial intelligence collection missions. 

When Constellation steamed for Japan, Ticonderoga (CVA-14) and her 
escorts, under the command of Rear Admiral Robert B. Moore, took 
position at Yankee Station. Because of a relative improvement in weather 
conditions, Admiral Moore's task group was able to launch reconnaissance 
flights on six separate days during the remainder of July. Both the Plain of 
Jars and the panhandle were covered, but to minimize risks most 
overflights were conducted at medium-level altitudes. These operations 
succeeded in photographing Communist troop movements, supply traffic, 
and military installations. Similarly, the Laotian air force received post- 
bombing damage assessments and other intelligence that improved the 
government's military position. By the end of July the Navy had 
conducted 93 of the 189 missions carried out under the Yankee Team 

As a result of the Gulf of Tonkin attacks in August, Yankee Team 
operational procedures were altered to counter the growing Communist 
military threat. Shortly after the incidents in early August, U.S. intelli- 
gence confirmed the presence in North Vietnam of MiG-15s and MiG-17s 

'^Msgs, JCS 102316ZJun 1964; 121419Z; CP 122146Z; JCS 122227Z; 161904Z; memo, OP- 
60B to CNO, ser 000499P60 of 13 Jun; Flag Plot, "Laos Chronology 17 May-17 June." 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

USN-l 108739 

An RF-8A Crusader aerial reconnaissance aircraft of Light Photographic Squadron 65 
flies over aircraft carrier Ticonderoga (CVA-14) in December 1964. 

provided by Communist China. Accordingly, escort aircraft now carried 
air-to-air weapons and were permitted to attack hostile aircraft in Laos and 
to carry "hot pursuit" into Thailand and South Vietnam. Unless in actual 
combat with enemy planes, however, Yankee Team escorts were barred 
from North Vietnamese air space and prohibited from entering China for 
any reason. Despite these precautions, however, no air-to-air encounters 
took place over Laos during 1964. 

Fleet Air Operations Over Laos 391 

Following the Gulf of Tonkin naval engagements, there was a buildup 
in the number of Seventh Fleet carrier task groups operating in Southeast 
Asian waters. During August and most of September two aircraft carriers 
shared Yankee Team duties, as well as the now primary mission of 
exhibiting U.S. military strength in the confrontation with North Viet- 
nam. Fiampered by bad weather and other operational commitments, 
Task Force 77, under Admiral Moore, initially launched only a limited 
number of reconnaissance flights. Between 28 August and 10 September, 
however, thirty-two such missions were conducted. For the remainder of 
1964, only forty more photographic missions over Laos were accom- 
plished by Ticonderoga, Constellation, and Hancock aircraft, but the require- 
ment for aerial photographic missions was lessened, in part, because of the 
introduction into the fleet late in the year of the more advanced and 
capable RA-5C Vigilante. The first operation by this aircraft took place on 
1 December from the deck of Ranger (CVA-61)." 

By the end of 1964, Seventh Fleet aircraft had carried out more than 
half of the joint Yankee Team missions, which included 198 photograph- 
ic, 171 escort, and 81 weather flights. The information collected, 
especially through the low-level flights, provided U.S. and friendly 
governments with useful intelligence of enemy intentions and capabilities, 
including confirmation of the suspected increase in the number and size of 
enemy units infiltrating into South Vietnam by way of the Flo Chi Minh 
Trail complex. On the negative side, it is evident that the political purpose 
of these flights was not achieved, since the enemy showed no sign of 
halting his support of the insurgency in South Vietnam. 

At the same time, the Navy profited from participation in the Yankee 
Team program. Commanders, recognizing that their military operations 
would be to a great extent controlled at the Washington level, adapted 
their actions to this method of command, which would be exercised 
throughout the Vietnam conflict. Similarly, search and rescue (SAR) 
procedures were modified and refined in accordance with the special 
Southeast Asian operating environment. SERE training benefited from the 
lessons learned the hard way by naval aviators. The officers and men of 
Task Force 77 gained valuable experience with the extended deployment 

^'Previously, CINCPAC prohibited use of the technologically advanced plane over Laos for fear of 
loss. See OP-03, memo for record, of 22 Sep 1964. 

392 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

at Yankee Station that would prepare them for the later aerial offensive 
against North Vietnam."*" 

The Yankee Team reconnaissance operation, in addition to the Seventh 
Fleet's "show of force" deployments into the South China Sea, and the 
anchorage and naval base surveys on the South Vietnamese coast, 
represented the Johnson administration's growing focus during 1964 on 
overt military measures against North Vietnam in order to preserve the 
faltering government of South Vietnam. Key American naval leaders were 
influential advocates of this course of action, convinced as they were that 
the North Vietnamese lacked the will or physical capacity to prevail 
against an increasingly strong application of U.S. air and naval force. 
Further, they minimized the likelihood of a Chinese military response. 
Continued weakness of the South Vietnamese politico-military effort, 
concern by other U.S. leaders over Chinese intentions, ongoing diplomat- 
ic activities, and other considerations, however, dictated a limited use of 
American military power in Southeast Asia. 

■"•JCS, NMCC Summaries, of 19, 26 Jun, 13, 16, 21, 23, 24, 31 Jul 1964; memos, OP-333E to OP- 
002, of 29 Jun 1964; OP-33B of OP-09B, ser 003131-64 of 27 Aug; ser 003132-64 of 3 Sep; ser 
00032P33 of 17 Sep; msgs, COMUSMACV 021345Z Aug; CPFLT 030104Z; CP 120323Z; 
200325Z Sep; JCS 281438Z; CTF7^, ■'Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) for Yankee Team 
(YT)," ser 0031205 of 7 Dec; COM7FLT, Weekly Summaries, Jun-Dec 1964; CINCPAC, Command 
History, 1964, pp. 271-72; CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1964, pp. 4, 51; FY1965, pp. 5, 54, 
55; Flag Plot, "Laos Chronology 17 June-31 July;" JCS Paper 2344/92; MACV, Command History, 
1965, pp. 208-10. 


Naval Engagements in the 
Gulf of Tonkin 

The Tonkin Gulf crisis of August 1964, which focused American attention 
on Southeast Asia in a highly dramatic fashion, traced its origin to March 
1962, when Admiral Schoech, Commander Seventh Fleet, proposed a 
destroyer patrol in international waters along the Chinese Communist 
coast. The purpose was to "collect intelligence concerning CHICOM 
electronic and naval activity... establish and maintain Seventh Fleet pres- 
ence in area [and] serve as a minor cold war irritant to CHICOMs."' Soon 
afterward, the JCS, through CINCPAC, authorized inauguration of the 
operation, designated the Desoto Patrol, in international waters off the 
Chinese mainland. 

In mid-April 1962, DeHaren conducted the first operation. The ship 
steamed along the northern coastline of the Peoples Republic of China. 
Once each month for the next five months, U.S. destroyers cruised the 
same general area without significant incident, although the Chinese 
broadcast protests. The October patrol of Hollister (DD-788) and the 
November mission oi Shelton (DD-790) were extended to include, for the 
first time, surveillance along the North Korean littoral. As before, there 
was no significant Communist reaction. 

'Msg, COM7FLT 140536Z Mar 1962. The following sources, of varying usefulness and quality, 
specifically treat the Tonkin Gulf crisis. U.S., Congress, Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, 
Hearings on the Gulf of Tonkin, the 1964 Incidents (90th Cong., 2nd sess.) (Washington: GPO, 1968); 
Anthony Austin, The President's War ('i^e'w York: Lippincott, 1972); John Mecklin, Mission in Torment 
(Garden City, NY: Doubleday and Co., 1965); Joseph C. Goulden, Truth is the First Casualty: The Gulf 
oj Tonkin Affair — Illusion and Reality (New York: Rand McNaily, 1969); Eugene G. Windchy, Tonkin 
Gulf (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 197 1 ); John Galloway, The GulJ of Tonkin Resolution (Rutherford, 
NJ: Farleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1970); U.S., Congress, Senate, Committee on Armed Services, 
Nomination of Admiral Thomas H. Aioorer. USN. to he Chairman. Joint Chiefs of Staff (,91st Cong., 2nd 
sess.) (Washington: GPO, 1970); Jim and Sybil Stockdale, In Love and War: The Story of a Family's 
Ordeal and Sacrifice During the Vietnam Years (New York: Harper and Row, 1984); Samuel E. Halpern, 
WEST PAC 64 (Boston: Branden Press, 1975). 


394 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

The first surface surveillance of North Vietnamese coastal waters, as 
part of the Desoto Patrol program, was carried out in mid-December 
1962. Departing Keelung, Taiwan, on 16 December, /i^fr^o/w (DD-826) 
sailed around Hainan Island and into the Gulf of Tonkin to 21 north 
latitude. As with the other ships, Agerholm was directed to approach no 
closer than twenty miles to Communist territory. The mission of the patrol 
was to "collect general and electronic intelligence [and] increase U.S. 
knowledge concerning CHICOM and North Vietnamese military forc- 
es."^ The cruise coincided with reconnaissance flights over the same area 
by EC-121 and EA-3B electronic intelligence planes. Thus, Communist 
radar emissions were monitored from the air and the sea. In keeping with 
past practice, the Chinese protested the approach of the U.S. patrol to 
their territorial waters, but took no further action. 

During 1963, there were six additional Desoto Patrols along the 
Chinese, Soviet, Indonesian, and North Vietnamese coastlines. Once 
again, the patrolling destroyers were prohibited from approaching closer 
than twenty nautical miles from the Communist mainland. In mid-April, 
Richard S. Edwards (DD-950) operated off Hainan and North Vietnam. 
The Seventh Fleet ship was shadowed by five or six North Vietnamese 
submarine chasers and coastal minesweepers and a number of Chinese 
aircraft. The Chinese again issued "serious warnings."' 

On 7 January 1964, Commander Seventh Fleet issued a revised 
directive governing conduct of the Desoto Patrol. The mission of the 
operation was broadened to include the collection of "all-source intelli- 
gence" in order to "increase both COMSEVENTHFLT and national fund 
of information concerning both military and civil activity of the Asiatic 
Communist bloc." In addition, the restriction that U.S. ships approach no 
closer than twenty miles from Communist territory was eased to allow 
patrol vessels to sail as near as twelve miles offshore. Aerial intelligence 
collection aircraft continued to form part of the Desoto team. The 
following information was sought: 

A. Seaward defense posture: disposition of forces and capabili- 
ty. Deployment and operations of naval units, particularly 

'Msg, ADMINO COM7FLT 080250Z Dec 1962. 

'H.E. Fitzwater, JRC (JCS), memo for record, of 13 Aug 1964. See also CINCPAC, Command 
History, 1962, pp. 44-45; 1963, pp. 55-57; 1964, p. 367; CINCPACFLT, Annual Report, FY1962, p. 
12; msgs, CP 172231Z Mar 1962; COM7FLT 080250Z Dec; John /?. Craig 151020Z Dec 1963. 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 395 

B. Air defense posture: disposition and capability. Response to 
unexpected surface and air contacts. 

C. Merchant shipping activity. 

D. [Electronic] intelligence collection in support of objectives 

E. Photography and visual identification in support of objec- 
tives above. 

F. Hydrographic and meteorological observations. 

G. Such additional recurring or nonrecurring collection as may 
be directed by higher authority.'' 

The potential value of the operation to U.S. actions in Southeast Asia 
was recognized by key leaders. In mid-January 1964, COMUSMACV 
requested that the Desoto Patrol scheduled for February be designed to 
provide the forthcoming 34A program with critical intelligence. CINC- 
PAC informed the JCS that there was a "continuing requirement for 
obtaining INTEL on DRV forces capable [of resisting] projected opera- 
tions in conjunction with OPLAN 34A. Desoto platform offers excellent 
means for obtaining this INTEL."' Accordingly, Admiral Moorer, the 
Seventh Fleet commander, scheduled a patrol by Radford (DD-446) for 
the first week in February. The destroyer was to steam along a designated 
track off the North Vietnamese coast, orbiting in certain areas for up to 
twenty-four hours. For the first time, a Desoto Patrol ship was authorized 
to close up to four nautical miles to Communist territory. In addition to 
satisfying existing needs, Radford had orders to photograph items of 
interest on the coast and offshore islands, to locate and identify coastal 
radar transmitters, to monitor junk activity, and to provide "information 
on Viet Cong supply routes to fulfill long standing requirement this 
area."^ To ensure that General Harkins received intelligence specifically 
suited to the maritime operation based in Danang, a MACV officer would 
be embarked in Radford. Shortly afterward, however, the patrol was 
postponed until after mid-February in order not to interfere with 34 A 
missions planned for the first two weeks of the month. ^ 

■*Msg, COM7FLT 070524Z Jan 1964. See also msg, COM7FLT 151741Z Aug 1963. 

^Msg, CP 240124ZJan 1964. 

"^Msg, COM7FLT 220602Z Jan 1964. 

'Msgs, COM7FLT 151741Z Aug 1963; CP 290100Z Jan 1964; COM7FLT 300300Z. 

396 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

As a result of this de\?iy,John R. Craig (DD-885) replaced Radford as the 
patrol ship. At the end of January 1964, Admiral Sharp, the Pacific Fleet 
commander, directed Commander James H. Doyle, the commanding 
officer oi fohn R. Craig, to conduct the postponed mission from 25 
February to 12 March. The closest point of approach to Communist China 
remained twelve nautical miles, while that to North Vietnam was more 
precisely defined as eight miles to the mainland and four miles to the 
offshore islands. Because the State Department had no record of a specific 
North Vietnamese assertion regarding their territorial waters, U.S. 
officials concluded that international waters extended to three miles 
offshore, which was the limit established by the French when they 
controlled Indochina. Only on 1 September, after the August incidents, 
did the North Vietnamese state a claim to a twelve-mile limit.* In addition 
to standing requirements. General Harkins requested that the Desoto 
Patrol provide him with radarscope photography of the North Vietnam- 
ese littoral. Assessing the threat from the Communists as minimal. Admiral 
Sharp decided not to provide carrier air support. He observed that 
"CHICOM air attack on Desoto ship highly unlikely and North Vietnam 
air capability for attack almost non-existent."' Ingersoll (DD-652), howev- 
er, was ordered to the entrance of the Gulf of Tonkin prepared to assist 
John R. Craig with on-call surface support against destroyers and smaller 
naval vessels and antiaircraft protection. 

On 25 February, y^/?;; R. Craig steamed from Keelung, Taiwan, with 
Captain Edward A. Williams, Commander Destroyer Division 12, and 
several intelligence collection equipment vans embarked for the first 
Desoto Patrol of 1964. A MACV representative, Lieutenant Commander 
Donald P. Darnell, accompanied the ship during part of the patrol. yo/:?// R. 
Craig conducted the surveillance operations for eleven days in internation- 
al waters near the Chinese and North Vietnamese coasts without eliciting 
a significant reaction from either Communist nation. Aside from shadow- 
ing John R. Craig with a Kronstadt class patrol vessel and an aircraft, both 
from considerable distances, the Chinese restricted their response to 
issuing a "serious warning," one of many in a long series. No North 
Vietnamese reaction was detected. By 9 March, the American destroyer 

"Memo, Office of the Judge Advocate General to SECNAV, of 1 Feb 1968; msg, CPFLT 140203Z 
Jul 1964; COM7FLT, OPORD 201-64, Ann. D, app. XI. 
"•Msg, CPFLT 311834ZJan 1964. 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 397 

completed its mission, made difficult by ubiquitous coastal fog, and sailed 
for Taiwan.'" 

Another Desoto Patrol was conducted in July. This time, Soviet coastal 
waters in the Sea of Japan were the prime interest. Between 14 and 24 
July, George K. MacKenzie (DD-836), with Commander Destroyer Division 
32 on board, sailed as close as fifteen nautical miles to Soviet territory in 
the vicinity of Vladivostok and Sakhalin Island. The ship collected 
valuable electronic, photographic, visual, hydrographic, and other intelli- 
gence. Numerous Soviet ships and aircraft approached George K. 
MacKenzie. but no incidents occurred." 

Preparation for the August Patrol 

Even while George K. MacKenzie cruised through northern waters, 
planning was underway for another mission in the Gulf of Tonkin. Since 
March 1964, COMUSMACV's requirements for current intelligence on 
North Vietnam had increased significantly. During the spring, the 34A 
maritime force suffered losses and accomplished little, partly owing to the 
dearth of information on the enemy's defenses. In April Admiral Felt, 
CINCPAC, reported that the "lack of adequate intelligence is a prime 
factor in the failure of maritime operations." He added that "as a result of 
increased state of alert and mobilization of resources by the DRV sabotage 
targets are more difficult to reach than was visualized at the time 
[Operation Plan 34A] was written .... The odds against pulling off 
operations under present conditions are high."'^ 

At the beginning of July, General Westmoreland, the new COMUS- 
MACV, detailed his specific needs for an improved 34A program. He 
required intelligence on the enemy's coastal ground forces and naval craft 
capable of intercepting the South Vietnamese PTFs and Swifts. Knowl- 
edge of radar sites from which the maritime force could be detected and 

'"Msgs, CP 010022Z Feb 1964; 010308Z; ADMIN CPFLT 120142Z; 120423Z; COM7FLT 
140200Z; 291015Z; 051 132Z Mar; Fitzwater, JRC (JCS), memo for record, of 13 Aug 1964; Roy L. 
Johnson, transcript of interview with John T. Mason, Jr., U.S. Naval Institute, in Virginia Beach, VA, 
Dec 1980, p. 235. 

"Msgs, CPFLT 212 103ZJun 1964; COM7FLT 300740Z; CP 150015ZJul; CTU72.1.2 200420Z; 
CTG72.1 211447Z. 

'^Msg, CP 012205Z Apr 1964. See also msg, COMUSMACV 311037Z Mar 1964. 

398 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

tracked also was essential. The general requested coverage of those areas 
specifically targeted for sabotage missions during July. Vinh Son and the 
islands of Hon Me, Hon Nieu, and Hon Matt were the sites of prime 
importance. Concern about the enemy's patrol craft was heightened when, 
on 3 July, COMUSMACV reported that ten Swatow motor gunboats had 
swelled the defense forces at Dong Hoi. An additional four boats were 
discovered at Quang Khe. Westmoreland observed that the "cause of 
these movements not known but could be attributable as reaction to 
recent successful 34A MAROPS."'^ 

Accordingly, on 10 July, Admiral Sharp, the new CINCPAC, directed 
Admiral Moorer, now CINCPACFLT, to finalize planning for a Desoto 
Patrol into the Gulf of Tonkin, to begin not later than 1 August, for the 
"primary purpose of determining DRV coastal patrol activity."'"* CINC- 
PACFLT was authorized direct liaison with General Westmoreland to 
determine if additional intelligence was required, to set up any communi- 
cations that were desired, and to ensure mutual non-interference between 
proposed 34A and Desoto Patrol operations. 

The following day. Vice Admiral Johnson, the newly designated 
Commander Seventh Fleet, issued his initial instructions. Picking (DD- 
685), with Commander Destroyer Division 192, Captain John J. Herrick, 
embarked, was slated to carry out the m.ission under the operational 
control of Commander Taiwan Patrol Force, Rear Admiral Robert A. 
MacPherson. The destroyer would depart Keelung on 28 July and 
proceed southwestward to the patrol area. After underway replenishment 
in the vicinity of 17 N 108 30'E, the plan called for Picking to steam along 
the following track, arriving near the following points at the times 


17 5'N 

107 18'E 

31 BOOH 



106° 42 'E 




105° 53'E 



19° 47'N 

106° 8'E 



20° 22'N 

107° E 



20° 42'N 

107° 47'E 


'-'Msg, COMUSMACV 030307ZJul 1964. The information on the Swatow deployments was soon 
disputed, but North Vietnamese naval movements remained a concern. See also msgs, COMUS- 
MACV 252331ZJun 1964; 010015Z Jul. 

'■•Msg, CP 100342Z Jul 1964. 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 399 


21 19'N 

108 24'E 



[2]!° 17'N 

108° 49 'E 



20° 47 'N 

107° 40'E 



20° 8'N 

106° 45 'E 



19° [3]7'N 

106° I'E 



19° 9'N 

106° 19'E 



18° 41'N 

105° 58'E 




106° 50'E 



17° 33'N 

106° 45'E 



17° 15'N 

107° 20'E 


As established during John R. Craig's patrol, the closest point of 
approach to the North Vietnamese littoral remained eight nautical miles 
and four miles to the offshore islands. Captain Herrick was authorized to 
delay his departure for up to twenty-four hours from the various points if 
he expected intelligence collection there to be especially productive. At 
the same time, Picking was allowed to quickly pass through those areas 
deemed sterile. In either case, the patrol commander had orders to alert 
Commander Seventh Fleet of changes to the schedule. Captain Herrick, 
however, retained considerable discretion in the length of time allowed in 
the various areas: 


Approximate Duration of Orbit (hours) 



















"As most histories of the Tonkin Gulf incidents have revealed, determining the correct sequence of 
events has been complicated by the fact that Washington, Honolulu, Taiwan, the gulf itself, and often 
ships underway were located in different time zones. To simplify the ume conversion process, 
throughout Chapters XIV-XVII local time in the waters off mainland Southeast Asia is considered 
Hotel (H) Time. South Vietnam adhered to H Time while Nonh Vietnam operated on Golf (G) 
Time (i.e., 1 hour earlier than H Time). Local time in Washington (on Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) 
in August 1964) was exacdy 12 hours behind H Time. Thus, 0100 on 5 August in the gulf would 
correspond to 1300 on 4 August in Washington. Zulu (Z) Time (Greenwich Mean Time), used in the 
Na\'y's message traffic, is 8 hours behind H Time and 4 hours ahead of Washington time. 


United States Navy 

and Vietnam Conflict 



Duration oj Orbit (hours) 









In addition, Admiral Johnson specifically called for the Desoto Patrol 
ship to locate North Vietnamese radar transmitters and to estimate their 
range capabilities; chart navigational lights, landmarks, and buoys; obtain 
current, tide, and other information near river mouths; photograph all 
prominent landmarks and islands in the same areas and near built-up 
locations; conduct radarscope photography along the coast; and monitor 
junk traffic that might be infiltrating into South Vietnam. A communica- 
tions van embarked in George K. MacKenzie would be transferred to Picking 
just prior to the latter ship's departure from Taiwan."^ 

By mid-July, however. General Westmoreland expressed doubts that 
the Desoto Patrol could provide the 34A program with adequate 
intelligence. Because of inclement weather dunng John R. Craig's cruise, 
the actual intelligence return had been minimal. Further, COMUSMACV 
observed that the "Desoto Patrol is regarded as a potentially useful 
method of collecting DRV intelligence needed here" but that "it is 
questionable that the relatively brief Desoto [electronic intelligence] and 
sea intel samplings would produce results which are as accurately 
representative of long term events as regularly recurring" maritime air 
patrols. He added that "perhaps the ultimate answer to more complete 
DRV [electronic intelligence] and sea intel of the type needed here would 
be development of a mix of regularly recurring patrols/recon conducted 
by high altitude aircraft, maritime aircraft, destroyers and possibly 
submarines."'^ Perhaps reflecting his lower estimation of the value of the 
Desoto Patrol to the 34A program. General Westmoreland decided that, 
in contrast to the March mission, a MACV liaison officer need not 
accompany the July- August patrol."^ 

'"Msgs, COM7FLT 110652Z Jul 1964; 170531Z. 

"Msg, COMUSMACV 192241Z Jul 1964. See also msgs, CP 090528Z May 1964; COMUS- 
MACV 111205Z Jul; ADMINO CP 152123Z. 
'"Msgs, COM7FLT 170531Z Jul 1964; 260955Z. 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 



106° 107° ^ •" <%^ ^ ^09°^ 




C?V / ^^ 

) ^~~^ 

^ ir X • ^ 


\ "^ "'^■^^^^^^^ ':/' ""i 


t Haiphong r\i\> '^ ' '.^ / 

\a >v^ /C^'f 

^H. J • <«» 


Morth Vietnam 1 1 >" II 


Kj ^-'/' 


X'''/ ■ 



\ /^^^ x''* 



1 ""'^ / 

^ y 

{ ^ Hon Me ^ 

/ i ^^ ( 


J / y Gulf > 

— 19° 

, ( 

/c / \ 19°- 

Hon \^^ of / Hainan 


V Vinh, 

]\ .^Mattv Tonkin 





\ n\, ^^ 


SK ^ 


\ \S.N 18°- 


VinhSonV B*\l 

4 K 

V,_ Quang Khe'X. ' \ 

\ Dong Hoi*V 0*^0. 

\ . K, '^^^ P 

^\ ^\ \ • 

/ \ \ • 

— 17° 

^ / A A- 
Laos 1 ■ \^^ 

Xyi SouthN 

'V„ Vietnam VJM 

106° 107£r^->^ 10e°7c2 109° 

Intended Track of the Desoto Patrol 

402 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

No connection, other than that detailed above, existed between the 
34A maritime operation and the Desoto Patrol. To be sure, earlier in the 
year Pacific commanders proposed combined operations of these two 
forces. Since it was known that North Vietnamese coastal radars were 
turned off when U.S. equipment was activated. Admiral Sharp, then the 
Pacific Fleet commander, suggested in May that "we could coordinate 
[PTF] raids in NVN with the operation of a shipboard radar to reduce 
possibility of NVN radar detection of the delivery vehicle."'' Admiral 
Felt endorsed this proposal, stating that "a U.S. destroyer could be made 
available for this purpose. "^° CINCPAC also expanded on the concept, 
detailing a scenario whereby a PTF and a Swift boat would be vectored to 
the target area by the destroyer. A U.S. naval officer would be carried in 
the Swift to monitor the vector commands. If an enemy naval vessel 
appeared on the scene, the escorting PTF could be guided by the U.S. 
ship to engage the contact. 

By the time COMUSMACV considered these proposals at the end of 
June, the situation had changed. The maritime force was then fully 
operational, the South Vietnamese crews were performing better, and a 
number of missions in North Vietnam were concluded successfully. 
Further, General Westmoreland felt that the complex problem of 
coordinating combined actions exceeded the competence of the South 
Vietnamese crews. He observed that "in theory such levels could 
ultimately be attained, however the present orientation of effort is toward 
more modest 34 A goals." The general added that "any activity on our 
part immediately preceding a [maritime operations] mission such as [a] 
DD's appearance would tend to be self defeating since the enemy would 
be alerted."^' Thereafter, consideration of operating Desoto Patrol 
destroyers and 34A craft in tandem was dropped. 

Indeed, CINCPACFLT raised the concern that the two operations 
might interfere with one another during the July-August mission. CO- 
MUSMACV assured the naval commander that as long as Maddox, which 
had replaced Picking as the Desoto Patrol ship, did not deviate from the 
assigned time and route schedule, there would be no problem. And given 
at least thirty-six hours notice, Westmoreland could adjust 34A operations 

"Msg, CPFLT 190259Z May 1964. 

^"Msg, CP 272258Z May 1964. Even earlier CINCPAC had alluded to the possibility of combined 

operations. See CP 090528Z May 1964. 
^'Msg, COMUSMACV 250741Z Jun 1964. 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 


:^W.^ f<^^ 






404 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

to allow Maddox greater latitude in the patrol area. Admiral Moorer 
responded that it might not always be possible to provide the proposed 
changes thirty-six hours in advance. The general accepted the difficulties 
involved in this coordination, but stated that as long as the Special 
Operations Group in Saigon was given expeditious notice of course or 
time changes, "34A operations will be adjusted to prevent interfer- 
ence."'^ In accordance with this concept. Admiral Moorer authorized 
Admiral Johnson to effect liaison with MACV "to assure all feasible 
measures are taken to avoid interference with 34 A operations. "^^ 

As instructed, Seventh Fleet representatives met with MACV staff 
officers during the fourth week in July and exchanged information. Based 
on his knowledge of past patrols. Admiral Johnson doubted that the 
destroyer would have to remain in one area longer than scheduled. 
Nevertheless, he advised Commander Taiwan Patrol Force to inform 
Captain Herrick, the Desoto Patrol commander, of the special nature of 
operations in the Gulf of Tonkin. Commander Seventh Fleet stipulated: 

A. That patrol ship should carefully assess collection requirement 
opportunity with an 'eye on the clock' and keep [all con- 
cerned] informed of intentions in most expeditious manner 

B. That most coordination problems are resolved by timely and 
complete [situation reports], and that due to sensitivity of the 
area, what... may have been common occurrence (E.G. being 
shadowed by patrol... craft, overflown by aircraft or subject 
[of] unusual radar interest) may be, in this case, a significant 
event and worthy of a special [situation report].^'* 

Even as COMUSMACV deemphasized the importance of the Desoto 
Patrol to his operations against North Vietnam, other U.S. leaders 
questioned the need for any destroyer surveillance effort along the 
Communist periphery. In July, the Chief of Naval Operations called for an 
analysis of the Desoto Patrol program's value. Admiral McDonald 
specifically wanted to ensure that the Navy was not just "DeSoto 

"Msg, COMUSMACV 250705Z Jul 1964. See also msgs, CPFLT 150157Z Jul 1964; COMUS- 
MACV 192241Z; CPFLT 222224Z. 

"Msg, CPFLT 222224Z Jul 1964. See also Johnson, Interview, p. 237. 
"Msg, COM7FLT 260955Z Jul 1964. 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 405 

patrolling once a quarter because it has been going on for some time."^^ 
At the end of the month, Admiral Moorer responded that the advantages 
gained from the operation outweighed the disadvantages. The chief 
benefit was the realistic training provided officers and men in close 
proximity to unfriendly forces. Almost as important was the opportunity 
provided "to assert our traditional belief in the right of free use of 
international waters. ..the importance of [which] has been emphasized 
[time] and again [but] is particularly worthy of repetition at this time."^'' 
To emphasize this point, Admiral Moorer requested permission to sail a 
destroyer during August or September, into the Sea of Okhotsk, a body of 
water near the Soviet Union not entered by a U.S. naval vessel in eleven 
years. A third advantage of the patrols was the operational intelligence 
derived from the Communist powers. CINCPACFLT believed that close 
observation by these nations of U.S. ships was the only meaningful 
disadvantage of the patrol program.^^ 

In addition. Admiral Sharp provided further justification for the Desoto 
Patrol in the Gulf of Tonkin. CINCPAC observed that visual intelligence 
of the North Vietnamese coast had not been obtained since March. Also, 
with the continuation of the Yankee Team carrier air operations in Laos 
and the possibility of overt action against North Vietnam, current 
intelligence became all the more essential. Lastly, an increase in 34A 
operations required more recent information of the target area.^^ 

Preparations for the Desoto Patrol mission for July-August proceeded 
as scheduled. The detailed guidelines issued by Commander Seventh Fleet 
on 11 and 17 July, however, reflected a greater awareness of the risks 
involved than was evident earlier in the year. While the air protection of 
John R. Craig was deemed to be unnecessary, air cover for Maddox was on 
alert and close at hand. Ticonderoga, engaged in Yankee Team operations, 
specifically was directed to provide the Desoto Patrol ship with on-call air 
support against naval vessels and aircraft. Communications from Maddox 
were maintained through the Naval Communications Station, Philippines. 
During the patrol, that facility closely monitored operational messages 
from the ship and from Captain Herrick, and expeditiously passed them to 

"Quoted in memo, OP-002 to OP-03/OP-06/OP-92, ser 00197-64 of 18 Jul 1964. 
^•^Msg, CPFLT 3022372 Jul 1964. 

^^Ibid. The deployment of antisubmarine carriers in the Sea of Japan was also considered in this 
reply to the CNO. 

^*Msg, ADMINO CP 152123Z Jul 1964. 

406 United States Naty and Vietnam Conflict 

all concerned. If under attack or "harassment which clearly indicates 
imminent danger to the lives and/or safety of ship," Aiaddox was directed 
to send a "flash" precedence message to CINCPACFLT, COMUSMACV, 
and Commander Taiwan Patrol Force. At the same time, Aiaddox or 
Captain Herrick would alert Ticonderoga through the High Command 
communication circuit without delaying to encode the message. Further, 
Maddox had orders to undertake radio checks every four hours, send 
periodic situation reports, and transmit daily operational summaries.^' 

With preparations virtually complete. Pacific naval commanders 
awaited the final JCS order to execute the Desoto Patrol. That directive 
came on 22 July, when the Joint Chiefs of Staff instructed CINCPAC to 
undertake the long-planned reconnaissance mission into the Gulf of 

34A Operations in North Vietnam 

While Maddox made ready to get underway, U.S. leaders instituted last- 
minute changes to the 34A program. Enemy coastal defenses were 
becoming harder and more dangerous to penetrate. As early as April, 
CINCPAC concluded that, with 30,000 Viet Cong and twice as many 
supporters in South Vietnam, the enemy was aware of the 34A base at 
Danang. Communist observers could monitor the arrival and departure of 
the PTFs and PCFs and personnel in training. CINCPAC also considered 
it possible that enemy agents were among the South Vietnamese LDNN 
and boat personnel and were "reporting details of operations to Hanoi."'' 

The increased activity of North Vietnam's coastal fleet in July posed 
another problem. In this connection, an attack by the South Vietnamese- 
manned boats, against targets on the offshore islands and Vinh Son, 
scheduled for the 22nd, was postponed when intelligence detected two 
North Vietnamese Swatows off Hon Nieu and three others near Hon Me. 
Fearing that these 34A activities were compromised, COMUSMACV 
dispatched PTF-3, PTF-4, PTF-5, and PTF-6 on the same day to 

"Msg, COM7FLT 170531Z Jul 1964; See also CPFLT I40203Z Jul 1964. 
'"Msgs, JCS 171456ZJul 1964; ADMINO CP 182057Z; CPFLT 191937Z; JCS 221930Z; CP 
222159Z; CPFLT 252132Z. 
"Msg, CP 012205Z Apr 1964. 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 407 

reconnoiter the coastal area. The boats brought back intelligence of little 
value. Five days later, while engaged in a junk seizure southeast of Vinh 
Son, two PTFs and two Swift boats were attacked unsuccessfully by North 
Vietnamese patrol craft." 

Although a rather modest threat to the United States Navy, the North 
Vietnamese Navy in August 1964 posed a great danger to the 34 A 
operation. The first-line combatants of the enemy fleet were twenty-four 
"Swatow" motor gunboats acquired from the Chinese between 1958 and 
1962. The 83-foot vessels had crews of about thirty men and carried two 
or three 37-millimeter guns, two twin 14.5-millimeter guns, and six to 
eight depth charges. The Swatows had a designed speed of 28 knots and 
the craft carried surface-search radar. The North Vietnamese Navy also 
operated twelve Soviet-built P-4 motor torpedo boats delivered to 
Haiphong in late 1961. These craft had crews of eleven men and were 
armed with one twin 14.5-millimeter gun mount aft and two torpedo 
tubes amidship. The range of the torpedoes carried was 4,500 yards. The 
PTs were capable of 52-knot speeds. The North Vietnamese naval arm, 
essentially a coastal defensive force, also consisted of four Soviet "S.0.1" 
class submarine chasers, four minesweeping boats, and forty district patrol 

Decisionmakers in Washington were concerned that "improved and 
alerted coastal defenses make shore raids extremely difficult." In addition 
to this factor, the Secretary of Defense was troubled that the "tempo of 
attack was not building up in consonance with improving capabilities." 
McNamara asked his military advisors whether the conduct of "standoff 
gunfire or rocket attack" might be more advantageous than operations 
ashore.'** Westmoreland responded that the maritime force was testing the 
use of 81 -millimeter mortars and intending to experiment with 4. 5 -inch 
rockets and recoilless rifles. The general assumed that the long-standing 

"Msgs, COMUSMACV 240915Z Jul 1964; 271035Z; 301031Z. 

'^CIA, National Intelligence Survey, North Vietnam, of Jul 1964, p. 62; ONI, Naval Vessels of the 
Sino-Soviet Bloc, ONI 32-8, Change No. 1, of 13 Oct I960; ONI, Naval Ships of the Sino-Soviet 
Bloc, ONI 32-8A, of 22 Dec 1961; ONI, "The Far East Communist Bloc Navies in 1961," ONI 
Review (Apr 1962), p. 149; DIA, "The Far East Communist Bloc Navies in 1962," DIA Naval 
Intelligence Review (Apr 1963), P- 33; CIA, National Intelligence Survey, North Vietnam, of Jan 1972, 
pp. 108-09; COM7FLT, "NVN PT Boat Exploitation Team Report," of July 1966; CNO, North- 
Vietnam Navy Order of Battle, of 24 Jul 1964; CNO, Characteristics/Armament of PT Boats and 
Motor Gunboats. 

"Msg, JCS 260003Z Jul 1964. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Organization and Basing 

North Vietnamese Naval Forces 1964 

Commander of Naval Forces 


Naval Directorate 


1 Squadron 

S.O. 1 

Submarine Chasers 

3 Flotillas 
Swatow Motor 



Hon Gay 


Hon Gay 

1 Squadron 
Minesweeping Boats 


Ben Thuy/Quang 



2 Squadrons 


Motor Torpedo 


Service Craft 

Van Hoa 

Various Locations 

restriction on firing from a vessel offshore would be removed. COMUS- 
MACV, however, concurred with Admiral Sharp that authorizing the 
South Vietnamese Air Force to bomb selected targets in North Vietnam 
was the most effective way to increase pressure on the Hanoi regime." 

On 30 July, the day PTF-2, PTF-3, PTF-5, and PTF-6 departed Danang 
for their missions against the Hon Me and Hon Nieu targets, General 
Westmoreland issued his plan of action for the August 34A program 
based on the "assumption that off-shore bombardment will be approved." 
The new schedule provided for an increase in operations, most of which 
included shore bombardment or sabotage, "of 283 percent over the July 

"Msgs, COMUSMACV 291233Z Jul 1964; CP 291345Z. 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 409 

program and 566 percent over June." COMUSMACV added that the 
"tempo of operations and pressure on the DRV will be further increased 
as more boats become operationally ready. "^'' 

Although the PTF force sailed for North Vietnamese waters prepared 
to execute a bombardment of enemy targets if operations ashore proved 
infeasible, COMUSMACV still exhibited some doubt as to his authority to 
order offshore shelling. On 1 August he requested "ASAP, policy reading 
on stand off bombardment of DRV coastal targets." He added that unless 
he was directed otherwise, the maritime force would bombard the Vinh 
Son radar station and the enemy security post on the south bank of the 
Ron River on 3 August.^' He was not directed otherwise. 

The 30 July foray north by the South Vietnamese-manned PTFs 
proceeded as scheduled. By 2315H the four boats reached a point 
southeast of Hon Me at 19 N 106 16'E. Here, they parted company, with 
PTF-3 and PTF-6 heading for Hon Me and PTF-5 and PTF-2 for Hon 

The first two boats arrived off the southern end of their island at 
002 IH on 31 July. During the approach run to the target, a water tower 
and associated military structures, the boats spotted one North Vietnam- 
ese craft. About the same time, the enemy opened fire with 30 and 50- 
caliber machine guns, wounding four South Vietnamese on board PTF-6. 
That the North Vietnamese were not surprised came as no revelation to 
the maritime force. Both boat groups received intelligence beforehand 
that the enemy would be aware of their presence. With a landing to set 
demolition charges now out of the question, the South Vietnamese 
commander ordered the targets hit from offshore. Aided by moonlight 
and illumination rounds, the PTFs poured in 40-millimeter, 20-millime- 
ter, and 57-millimeter recoilless rifle fire. In this attack, the first standoff 
bombardment conducted during the 34 A campaign, the two boats 
destroyed a gun emplacement and a number of buildings. They retired 
from the area at 0048H. Although unaware of its presence, the boat force 
was pursued by a North Vietnamese Swatow motor gunboat, T-142. 
Later, the commander of T-142 reported his inability to catch up with the 
departing South Vietnamese units. 

"^Msg, COMUSMACV 301107Z Jul 1964. 

"Msg, COMUSMACV 010717Z Aug 1964. See also msg, CP 011840Z. 

410 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

The other boat section, consisting of PTF-2 and PTF-5, reached a point 
800 yards northeast of their target, a communications station on Hon 
Nieu, at 0037H on 31 July. As at Hon Me, the South Vietnamese mission 
commander decided against landing a sabotage team. With the target in 
sight, both boats shelled the area, scoring hits on a communication tower. 
Fire then was shifted to other targets on the island, which generated 
ineffective enemy counterfire. At 0113H both craft withdrew from the 
area, having accomplished their task. 

The Hon Me Nastys returned on a direct route to Danang, arriving 
there at 0955H and 1055H on 31 July. PTF-2 and PTF-5 left the vicinity 
of Hon Nieu and retraced the route followed when they entered North 
Vietnamese waters the previous evening. PTF-5 reached Danang at 
1045H and PTF-2 closed the South Vietnamese port at 1 120H after being 
delayed nearby with engine trouble.'* 

The Maddox Patrol 

Three days earlier, at 0800H on 28 July, Maddox, under Commander 
Herbert L. Ogier, put to sea from Keelung, Taiwan, bound for the South 
China Sea. On board was Captain John J. Herrick, Commander Destroyer 
Division 192 and Commander Task Group 72.1, plus personnel tempo- 
rarily assigned from various shore stations to man the electronic collection 
van secured to the deck prior to sailing.'' In addition, a petty officer was 
embarked to accomplish conventional photography. Another man, trained 
in radarscope photography, subsequently transferred to Maddox from 
Ticonderoga . 

On the morning of 3 1 July, the destroyer rendezvoused with oiler 
Ashtabula (AO-51) for underway refueling due east of the Demilitarized 
Zone at 17 1.5'N 108 29.5'E. While steaming alongside Ashtabula, at 
approximately 0820H, Maddox sighted two unidentified craft, which 

'"Msgs, CPFLT 261859ZJan 1964; COMUSMACV 230715ZJul; COMUSMACV 010321Z Aug; 
07023 IZ; 070253Z; Special Operations Division, SACSA, Talking Paper, ■■Operation Plan 34A 
Maritime Operations in the Gulf of Tonkin, July/August;^^ SACSA, ■'Description of South 
Vietnamese Operations on 30/31 July 1964;" SACSA, Chart of 30/31 July 1964 34A operation; 
MACV, Command History, 1964, Ann. A, pp. IV-2 — IV-4; Krisel, 'Special Maritime Operations in 
■Vietnam," pp. 120-21; U.S.-V.N. Relations, bk. 4, pt. IVC.2(b), pp. 5, 11; Bucklew, Interview with 
Mason, pp. 366-79; Mulford, Interview. 

"Captain Herrick's task designation initially was Commander Task Unit 72.1.2. 

Naval Engagements in the GulJ of Tonkin 411 

appeared to Captain Herrick to be similar to Nasty class PT boats, passing 
five miles ahead on a southerly course. Within the next half hour, two 
more vessels passed astern, also heading south. Of the latter group, one 
appeared to observers to be a Soviet P-6 class boat but actually was the 
older American-built PTF-2. While no communications were exchanged 
with the vessels sighted, it now is clear they were the four South 
Vietnamese-manned PTFs returning to Danang."*" 

At 0845H, with underway replenishment completed, Maddox activated 
her radars and other electronic equipment and steamed for Point Alpha. 
At 1320H, the Desoto Patrol ship reached her destination and began an 
orbit of the area. In addition to sixty to eighty fishing junks, Maddox 
personnel sighted an observation post and what was believed to be a radio 
facility on Gio Island. Although no electronic activity was identified as 
emanating from this station, the monitoring personnel on board picked up 
Communist early warning emissions while in the area. The ship then 
headed for Point Bravo."*' Early the following morning, 1 August, U.S. 
intelligence sources noted what was believed to have been the first 
reaction by the North Vietnamese to the presence of the July-August 
Desoto Patrol. 

As yet unaware of this information, the ship remained in the vicinity of 
Point Bravo, a little over eight miles from the mainland, during most of 
the morning of 1 August and then sailed for Point Charlie without 
incident. As before. North Vietnamese fishing craft plied their trade along 
the coast, but no enemy naval vessels appeared. During the late afternoon, 
the destroyer passed five miles to the northeast of Hon Matt. After 
reaching Point Charlie at 1800H, Maddox reported the existence of a 
number of communications antennae along the beach, which Captain 
Herrick guessed were being used to relay a fix on the ship. Intelligence 
later revealed that the American ship was tracked all day. At 21 15H, the 
vessel reached a position five miles southeast of Hon Vat, a small islet 
close to Hon Me. At no time during the August patrol did any American 
ship come closer to North Vietnamese soil. 

The uneventful nature of the patrol soon changed. In the early morning 
hours of Sunday, 2 August, North Vietnamese naval headquarters 

^°Msg, CTU72.1.2 310135Z Jul 1964; Maddox, Patrol Report, ser 002 of 24 Aug; Maddox, Deck 
Log, 1-31 Jul. 

^'Msgs, CTU72.1.2 311320ZJul 1964; 011200Z Aug; Maddox, Deck Log, 1-31 Jul 1964; Maddox, 
Patrol Report, ser 002 of 24 Aug. 


United States Naty and Vietnam Conflict 

Track 0/ Maddox, 31 July-2 August 1964 

ordered coastal forces to prepare for battle that night. Soon afterward, the 
Northern Fleet headquarters at Van Hoa (Port Wallut) dispatched as 
reinforcements for the three Swatows already in the Hon Me-Hon Nieu 
area, Division 3 of PT Squadron 135. The three P-4s of this unit were due 
to arrive at Hon Me around 0400H. 

At 0324H on 2 August, Captain Herrick was informed by American 
intelligence of the imminent danger. Thirty minutes later, he sent a 
"flash" precedence message stating "contemplate serious reaction my 
movements [vicinity] Pt Charlie in near future. Received info indicating 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 



Captain John J. Herrick, Commander Destroyer Division 1 92, and Commander Herbert 
L. Ogier. Commanding Officer o/Maddox (DD-731). shortly after the naval engagement 
in the Gulf of Tonkin. 

possible hostile action."^- Shortly afterward, Maddox ended the orbit at 
Point Charlie and steamed due east for the open sea at an unhurried 10 
knots. Captain Herrick planned to remain there until daylight when it 
would be safer to return to coastal waters."" At 0645H, Captain Herrick 

"^Msg, CTU72.1.2 01 1954Z Aug 1964. See also McNamara in Hearings on the Gulf of Tonkin, p. 10; 
Sharp, Slrate^y For Defeat, p. 40; Johnson, Vantage Point, p. 114. 
^'Msg, CTU72.1.2 012048Z Aug 1964. 

414 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

reported that unless otherwise directed he would proceed back toward the 
coast and Point Delta. But, he added that "if info received concerning 
hostile intent by DRV is accurate, and have no reason to believe it is not, 
consider continuance of patrol presents an unacceptable risk."^^ Admiral 
Johnson "noted" Captain Herrick's concern but directed the Desoto 
Patrol commander to resume the operation. The admiral reminded 
Herrick, however, that he was authorized to "deviate from itinerary at any 
time you consider unacceptable risk to exist."'*' Maddox reached the 
vicinity of Point Delta about 1 04 5 H on 2 August and turned south on the 
first leg of a planned eight-hour orbit off Thanh Hoa. A number of junks 
sailed in the area, but Maddox adjusted her track to avoid passing through 
any concentrations. Captain Herrick reported that "no further evidence of 
hostile intent" had been received. ^"^ About the same time, however, 
CINCPAC and Commander Seventh Fleet received a new intelligence 
evaluation that indicated the North Vietnamese were preparing to repulse 
further attacks on Hon Me and as a result of this heightened sensitivity 
might attack the Desoto Patrol ship. 

About thirty-five minutes after noon on 2 August, lookouts and radar in 
Maddox picked up three naval craft, identified as P-4 torpedo boats, ten 
miles north of Hon Me and heading south at 20 knots. The American 
destroyer reversed course and headed northeastward toward Point Delta. 
Soon afterward, Maddox personnel observed two Swatows, north of the 
island, heading south at 10 to 15 knots. Both groups entered a cove on 
Hon Me."'' As it soon became clear, these North Vietnamese forces were 
preparing to attack. The group gathered around Hon Me consisted of 
Swatows T-142 and T-146 and Division 3 of PT Squadron 135, 
comprising P-4s T-333, T-336, and T-339. About 1400H, the force was 
ordered to carry out a torpedo attack on the "enemy."'** 

■'■*Msg, CTU72.1.2 012245Z Aug 1964. 

■•'Msg, COM7FLT 020100Z Aug 1964. See also U.S.G. Sharp, transcript of interview with Ella 
Belle Kitchen, U.S. Naval Institute, in San Diego, CA, 1969-1970, Vol. U, p. 220. 

■""Msg, CTG72.1 0203 15Z Aug 1964. 

■"The sources slightly vary as to the actual time of the sightings and radar contacts. See msg, 
CTG72.1 020531Z Aug 1964; Maddox, Patrol Report, ser 002 of 24 Aug; Maddox, Deck Log, 1-31 
Aug 1964. 

^^he North Vietnamese, in their history of the war, have corraborated the evidence that they 
ordered the PT unit to attack Maddox. See Socialist Republic of Vietnam, Vietnam: The AniiU.S. 
Resistance War, p. 60. 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 415 

After departing the Hon Me area, Maddox steamed toward Point Delta. 
By 1500H the ship was twelve miles east of that reference point and 
headed in a northeasterly direction. At that time and for the next two 
hours the sky was overcast but visibility extended ten miles. A 10-knot 
wind did not disturb the relatively calm sea. 

At 1500H, the surface radar in Maddox picked up a contact thirty miles 
to the southwest near Hon Me. Radar operators tracked the contact, 
evaluated as a patrol boat because of its 30-knot speed, on a course of 50 , 
almost parallel to that of the destroyer. During the next forty-five minutes, 
the Desoto Patrol ship increased speed from 10 to 25 knots, headed east 
briefly, and then made to the southeast as more enemy boats were 
identified. These maneuvers were intended to open the contacts, which 
were also increasing their speed and closing. At 1530H Commander 
Ogier sounded General Quarters. Ten minutes later Captain Herrick sent 
an uncoded "flash" precedence message to Commander Seventh Fleet and 
the carrier task group stating that Maddox was ' ' being approached by high 
speed craft with apparent intention of torpedo attack. Intend to open fire 
if necessary self defense.""*' The task group commander then requested 
that Ticonderoga provide his ship with air support. Steaming 280 miles to 
the southeast of the Desoto Patrol destroyer, Ticonderoga already had four 
F-8E Crusaders airborne. These aircraft, armed with Sidewinder missiles, 
Zuni rockets, and 20-millimeter cannon, immediately were vectored to 
the scene. Turner Joy (DD-95 1 ), serving as a forward radar picket ship for 
the carrier group, also received orders to steam toward Maddox at best 
possible speed. 

Before these reinforcements arrived, Captain Herrick reported the 
three torpedo boats closing his ship at 50 knots. They were then eleven 
and one-half nautical miles distant. By 1600H the destroyer was twenty- 
five miles from the North Vietnamese coast and steaming to the southeast 
at 27 knots. The enemy vessels, then identified positively as three P-4s in 
column, closed to 9,800 yards off the starboard quarter. Five minutes after 
the hour, Maddox fired three 5-inch/38-caliber warning shots to deter 
further approach. The North Vietnamese craft continued closing fast. 
They made no attempt with signal flags, lights, pyrotechnics, radio, or 
other means to clarify their threatening maneuver. 

^"Msg, CTG77.5 021008Z Aug 1964. See also Maddox, Action Report, ser 003 of 24 Aug; Maddox, 
Patrol Report, ser 002 of 24 Aug; Maddox, Deck Log, 1-31 Aug. 


United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

T-333 H 

T-336 \^ 
Boats Return to \ 
Coastal Waters 

.1558 H Course Change to 150 

1600 H 

1605 H 

3 Warning Stiots Fired 


1628 H VF-51 Aircraft 
_ Attack Boats 


1608HMADDOX ^ 
Opens Fire J^ 


1628 H VF-53 
Aircraft Attack 



Shell Hits 

1624 H MADDOX 

Turns to Pursue, 
tfien to Clear Area 

Naval Engagement of 2 August 

At 1608H Maddox opened fire on the enemy, then 9,000 yards from 
the ship, with her 5-inch and 3-inch guns.'" Unobserved by Maddox, the 
first boat in the enemy formation, T-336, launched one of her two 
torpedoes at a range of between 9,000 and 5,000 yards. Thfen, either 
because her torpedo was launched or because of heavy fire from the 
American destroyer, the lead boat temporarily turned away to the south. 
But, the second and third vessels, T-339 and T-333, pressed the attack. 

^"During the subsequent action, the ship's six twin-mounted 5-inch/38-caliber guns and four twin- 
mounted 3-inch/50-caliber guns fired 283 rounds. 

Natal Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin All 

Within 3,000 yards of Maddox, T-339 launched two torpedoes, just as 5- 
inch fire hit the craft. The damaged boat retired from the battle with 
difficult)'. At this point, Maddox changed course to 110 to avoid two 
torpedoes, which passed by 200 yards to starboard. Meanwhile, T-333, 
with North Vietnamese squadron commander Captain Le Du Khoai on 
board, passed astern of the ship without launching torpedoes. At that 
point, T-336 returned to the scene of action, faUing in behind Khoai's 
boat on the approach. Closing to 2,000 yards, T-336 launched one 
torpedo and fired her 14. 5 -millimeter guns at the U.S. ship. A round from 
this craft hit the Mark 56 fire director pedestal on Maddox and lodged in 
an ammunition handling compartment below." But, the enemy boat 
commander, Lieutenant Tu, paid with his life for this accomplishment. 
Maddox gunfire raked T-336 as she passed astern, killing the officer at this 
battle station near the helm. Recognizing the enemy's daring, Commander 
Ogier later stated that the "attacking boats were aggressive and showed 
no tendency to abort their torpedo run even though they were confronted 
with a heavy barrage of fire."" 

By 1630H the surface action was over. The enemy boats put about and 
made for shore. Captain Herrick pursued them for a short while until it 
was clear that the North Vietnamese craft were outdistancing the 
destroyer and that there was a danger of hitting unexploded torpedoes in 
the area. At the same time, the Ticonderoga aircraft, led by Commander 
James B. Stockdale, arrived overhead. After directing the aircraft to the 
enemy, Maddox retired to the southeast at best speed. The F-8s discovered 
T-339 only five miles from Maddox while the other boats had covered 
several additional miles. The two Crusaders from VF 5 1 unsuccessfully 
attacked the northerly pair with Zuni rockets and cannon fire. Antiaircraft 
fire from the boats hit one of the aircraft, forcing the pilot to make an 
emergency landing at Danang. At the same time, two F-8s of VF 53 
concentrated on T-339, first expending their Zuni rockets and then 
strafing with their guns. On each run, hits were observed on the vessel, 
which stopped dead in the water and began to burn near the stern. 
Running low on fuel, the three remaining Crusaders returned to 

"The round now is in the custody of the Navy Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. 

^^Maddox, Action Report, ser 003 of 24 Aug 1964, p. 10. See also Maddox, Deck Log, 1-31 Aug; 
msgs, CTG72.1 020807Z; 020808Z; 020949Z; CTG77.5 021008Z; Cavalier 131115Z Jul 1966; 
SSO MACV 031107Z Mar 1968. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 









i ( 




















f~-> » 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 419 

Intelligence sources indicated that T-339 sank in the vicinity of 19 
47'N 106 3 IE.'' In addition, T-336 was heavily damaged, requiring a 
tow from T-333 to reach shore. The latter craft received damage to her 
auxiliary engine, but with the exception of a low lubrication oil-pressure 
reading, was ready for further action. Both boats beached just south of the 
Lach Chao Estuary. The boat group remained there for the next three 

As soon as Maddox was out of immediate danger, Admiral Johnson took 
steps to limit the consequences of the action. A second flight of F-8 
Crusaders, that relieved the first group over Maddox, was ordered not to 
pursue the enemy boats. Captain Herrick was directed to "retire from area 
until situation clears and further advised." He also was instructed to "not 
pursue attacking craft" but to "fire as necessary in self defense."" No 
further action took place, however, and by the early morning hours of 3 
August, Maddox was approaching the mouth of the gulf. 

Interlude Between Engagements 

A little more than two hours after the close of the combat action in the 
Gulf of Tonkin, Admiral Moorer ordered continuation of the Desoto 
Patrol. The Pacific Fleet commander stated that "in view Maddox incident 
consider it in our best interest that we assert right of freedom of the seas 
and resume Gulf of Tonkin patrol earliest. "''' To enhance the credibility 
of this demonstration of resolve, Maddox now was joined by Turner Joy, a 
Forrest Sherman class destroyer carrying three rapid-fire, 5-inch/ 54-caliber 
guns, four twin-mounted, 3-inch/50-caliber guns, and advanced fire 
control systems. CINCPACFLT altered the previous operational schedule. 
He now ordered Maddox and Turner Joy to proceed to Point Charlie, close 
by Hon Me, and then move northward toward Point Delta off Thanh 

"A North Vietnamese naval officer captured in 1966, who purportedly prepared the action report 
of the 2 August action, claimed that T-339 only sustained a hit in its after smoke generator and limped 
safely back to shore. But numerous contradictions appear in his rendition of events and the 
intelligence available at the time reported the loss of the boat. See msg, Catalier 1311 15Z Jul 1966. 
See also Wmdchy, Tonkin Gulf, pp. 147-48. 

'■■Msgs, CTG77.5 021008Z Aug 1964; COM7FLT 020859Z; CTG77.5 021506Z; Caialier 
131 1 15Z Jul 1966; Itr, Moore to EUer, of 17 Sep 1969; Maddox, Action Report, ser 003 of 24 Aug 
1964; Maddox, Patrol Report, ser 002 of 24 Aug; Stockdales, hi Love and War. pp. 4-10, 449-52. 

"Msg, COM7FLT 020859Z Aug 1964. See also msg, CTG77.5 021008Z. 

^"■Msg, CPFLT 021104Z Aug 1964. 

420 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Hoa. On 4 August, the destroyers were to retrace their track to Point 
CharUe. During the next three days, the patrol ships were scheduled to 
steam through points L, M, N, O, and P before ending the mission. Each 
night, the ships had orders to retire to the east for safety. CINCPACFLT 
stated that the closest point of approach to North Vietnam remained eight 
nautical miles to the mainland and four nautical miles from the offshore 
islands.^ Admiral Sharp concurred with CINCPACFLT's resumption of 
the patrol and with the changes to the schedule. But he directed his naval 
component commander to delay implementation until the JCS gave 

At this point. Captain Herrick expressed concerns about reentry into 
the Gulf of Tonkin, noting: 

It is apparent that DRV has cut [sic] down the gauntlet and now 
considers itself at war with U.S. It is felt that they will attack U.S. forces 
on sight with no regard for cost. U.S. ships in the Gulf of Tonkin can no 
longer assume that they will be considered neutrals exercising the right 
of free transit. They will be treated as belligerents from first detection 
and must consider themselves as such.'* 

He also observed that tactical considerations weighed against Maddox 
undertaking a renewed patrol: 

DRV PTs have advantage especially at night of being able to hide in 
junk concentrations all across the Gulf of Tonkin. This would allow 
attack from short range with little or no warning. Present USS-gunnery 
suit not too well fitted for anti-PT even in daylight. Short hull DD such 
as Maddox too shortlegged [limited fuel capacity] for long patrol where 
high speeds are required as in PT evasion. Consider resumption of 
patrol can only be safely undertaken by DD, CL/CA [cruiser] team and 
with continuous air cover.'' 

About the same time, the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded that 
information collected revealed that since March the North Vietnamese 
had become "increasingly sensitive to incursions from the South and to 
the threat of extension of the war and bombing." The agency further 
observed that the "torpedo attempt on Maddox indicates North Vietnam- 

''"Ibid; Maddox, Patrol Report, ser 002 of 24 Aug. 

^*Msg, CTG72.1 021443Z Aug 1964. 

''"'Ibid. See also msgs, ADMINO CP 021255Z Aug 1964; COM7FLT 021255Z; CPFLT 021407Z. 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 42 1 

ese intent and readiness to take aggressive action if they consider their 
territory immediately threatened. "^° 

U.S. leaders in Washington, however, did not share this interpretation. 
The President met with Secretary of State Rusk, Secretary of Defense 
McNamara, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Wheeler, and 
other senior officials of the administration late in the morning on 2 
August. They concluded that the attack might have resulted from the 
unilateral actions of an aggressive North Vietnamese boat commander or 
a local shore command. President Johnson observed later that "we were 
determined not to be provocative, nor were we going to run away. We 
would give Hanoi the benefit of the doubt — this time — and assume the 
unprovoked attack had been a mistake."''' As the patrol was resumed, 
North Vietnam was informed that U.S. ships would continue to steam 
where they pleased in international waters. Further, the North Vietnam- 
ese were warned to be "under no misapprehension as to the grave 
consequences which would inevitably result from any further unprovoked 
offensive military action against United States forces."''^ 

As directed by the President, at 1225 Eastern Daylight Time on 2 
August, the Joint Chiefs of Staff ordered completion of the interrupted 
Desoto Patrol. Admiral Moorer's route and time changes were accepted. 
But, CINCPAC was advised that the ships now could approach no closer 
than twelve nautical miles to the North Vietnamese mainland. Continuous 
daylight air cover was provided for, but the aircraft were stationed east of 
the two destroyers to avoid the possibility of overflying Communist 
territory. Reflecting concern with the Defense Intelligence Agency's 
conclusions, Admiral Sharp also was directed to ensure that the patrol 
avoided approaching the North Vietnamese coast during the period of the 
next 34A maritime mission.^' In accordance with these instructions. 
Commander Seventh Fleet, at 0822H on 3 August, requested that 
COMUSMACV provide him with information on the timing of the next 
34A mission to preclude interference with the Desoto Patrol. General 
Westmoreland responded that the Seventh Fleet destroyers should remain 

'°DIA, report, of August 1964. 

'''Johnson, Vantage Point, p. 113. 

"Quoted in Ihid. 

'^Msg, JCS 021723Z Aug 1964; "Statement by the President Upon Instructing the Navy to Take 
Retaliatory Action in the Gulf of Tonkin, August 3, 1964" in Public Papers of the Presidents of the United 
States, Lyndon B. Johnson: 1963-64 (Washington: GPO, 1965), bk. II, pp. 926-27. 

422 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

clear of the waters generally between the 17th and 18th parallels and stay 
east of 108 20'E during 3 and 4 August. 

At this time, there was concern in the Washington intelligence 
community that the North Vietnamese considered the 34A and Desoto 
Patrol operations as one. Hence, the CNO advised CINCPACFLT that 
intelligence revealed that the "heightened sensitivity and resultant attack 
by the DRV [on Maddoxl possibly was aftermath of a [reported] attack on 
Hon Me Island." He added that "following this attack, [intelligence] 
indicated DRV intentions and preparations to repulse further such 
attacks. "'^^ A short while later, intelligence units in the Pacific were 
informed that on 1 August the New China News Agency reported that the 
North Vietnamese had protested to the International Control Commission 
that at about 2340H on 30 July "the U.S. and the South Vietnamese 
administration sent two naval vessels to shell Hon Ngu Island [and] Hon 
Me Island." The conclusion was drawn, therefore, that the tracking and 
subsequent attack on Aladdox could have been provoked by "enemy" 
incursions into the Gulf of Tonkin a day or two before the arrival of 
Maddox in the area. A bulletin of the CIA issued on 3 August affirmed that 
"Hanoi's naval units have displayed increasing sensitivity to U.S. and 
South Vietnamese naval activity in the Gulf of Tonkin during the past few 

Maddox and Turner Joy, both under the operational control of Captain 
Herrick as Commander Task Group 72.1, got underway from a position 
between Hainan and the Demilitarized Zone about 0900H on 3 August 
and headed into the gulf. Captain Herrick received additional guidance 
with regard to enemy hostilities. He was instructed to destroy any enemy 
vessels that attacked Maddox or Turner Joy. Admiral Moore in Ticonderoga 
was told that in the event of "another unprovoked attack. ..on Desoto 
Patrol, it is mandatory maximum effort be made achieve complete 
destruction attacking units. "'^'^ U.S. ships and aircraft were authorized to 
maintain fire on enemy vessels which were within the eleven-mile coastal 
zone, if the latter craft attacked from those waters or retired there after the 
action. However, U.S. ships were not allowed to undertake hot pursuit 
into the eleven-mile zone. 

"^Msg, CNO, of 2 Aug 1964. 

"CIA, Bulletin, of 3 Aug 1964. 

'^Msg, COM7FLT 030553Z Aug 1964. See also msg, JCS 022349Z Aug. 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 


109° 20°— 

Track o/ Maddox and Turner Joy, 3-5 August 1964 

During the morning and early afternoon of 3 August, the ships steered 
a northwesterly course toward Point Charlie. The passage was uneventful 
until 1420H when one of the ships detected apparent radar emissions 
from a surface vessel, indicating that the pair of ships was under 
surveillance. A little more than an hour later, the destroyers reached the 
vicinity of Point Charlie, where they turned north toward Point Delta. In 
fact, from at least 1637H on, the North Vietnamese tracked the Desoto 
Patrol ships. Swatow T-142 shadowed the destroyers on the sortie north, 
periodically reporting to shore stations. Upon reaching the Point Delta 
area at 1727H, Maddox and Turner Joy turned to the east and made for the 
relative safety of a nighttime orbit in the open sea.'''' 

At this time, the South Vietnamese maritime force had been at sea for 
one hour and seventeen minutes. The four-boat group, PTF-1, PTF-5, 

■^'Msgs, COM7FLT 022225Z Aug 1964; CTG72.1 022330Z; COMUSMACV 030022Z; 
030335Z; COM7FLT O30552Z; CTG72.1 030745Z; COM7FLT 031010Z; CTG72.1 031403Z; 
Maddox, Patrol Repon, ser 002 of 24 Aug. 

424 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

PTF-2, and PTF-6, was scheduled to bombard a Nonh Vietnamese radar 
installation at Vinh Son and a security post on the south bank of the Ron 
River. The force departed Danang at 161 OH on the evening of 3 August. 
Each of the boats carried an eighteen-man South Vietnamese crew and a 
portable 57-millimeter recoilless rifle, in addition to other weapons. The 
trip north was uneventful until 1845H, when PTF-2 suffered a mechanical 
failure seventy miles east of the DMZ, forcing her to return to Danang. 
The remaining vessels proceeded to a point east of Vinh Son, where they 
separated and made for their respective targets. 

At midnight on 3 August, PTF-1 and PTF-5 opened fire on the radar 
facility near Vinh Son. For twenty-five minutes, the South Vietnamese 
poured 770 rounds of 57-millimeter and 40-millimeter fire into the target 
area. The boats then withdrew and headed for Danang, reaching that port 
about 0715H on 4 August. 

Operating alone, PTF-6 took up station off the mouth of the Ron River. 
At 2352H the boat began illuminating and shelling the security post in 
this area with her 57-millimeter, 40-millimeter, and 20-millimeter weap- 
ons, which ignited several fires. Here, the enemy responded with small 
arms fire, which failed to hit the craft. Shortly after the boat's retirement 
from the action at 0020H on 4 August, PTF-6 was pursued by an enemy 
vessel, which approached at 25 knots. Easily outdistancing the enemy 
boat, PTF-6 sped south, arriving in Danang at 0625H that morning.*"* 

In the meantime, while awaiting daylight at a position approximately 
100 miles from the coast, the Desoto Patrol ships made radar contact with 
another vessel which closely paralleled their course for over an hour 
around midnight. Captain Herrick strongly suspected that the shadower 
was a Communist bloc patrol craft. The suspected shadower, probably the 
Swatow T-142, broke contact at OlOOH.'^'' 

During the night of 3-4 August, Admiral Johnson, Commander Seventh 
Fleet, suggested that after the following day's mission the Desoto Patrol 
be ended. With their radius of action restricted to the sixty-mile track 
between Point Delta and Point Charlie, he noted that the ships would be 

''"Joint Staff, JCS, 34A Chronology of Events; Joint Staff, JCS, "Description of South Vietnamese 
Operations on 3/4 August 1964;" msg, COMUSMACV 040955Z Aug 1964; JRC (JCS), 
"Chronology of Events Relating to the Gulf of Tonkin Incidents," of 10 Aug 1964 in Porter, I'lelnam: 
The De/tniiiie Documenialwn, Vol. II, pp. 313-14. 

■^'Msgs, CTU72.1.2 031546Z Aug 1964; CTG72.1 04051 IZ. 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin Al'b 

easy to locate.^" Admiral Moorer, commander of the Pacific Fleet, did not 
concur. He apprised the Seventh Fleet commander that "termination of 
Desoto Patrol after two days of patrol OPS [subsequent] to Maddox 
incident... does not in my view adequately demonstrate U.S. resolve to 
assert our legitimate rights in these international waters." ' Admiral 
Moorer added that the ships should patrol the Charlie to Delta track for 
the next two days, proceed to another point to the north on the third day, 
and return to the Charlie-Delta track on the fourth day, before departing 
the gulf. He believed that these sorties would demonstrate the U.S. 
determination to continue the patrols, possibly draw the enemy away from 
the 34A activities, and preclude interference between the two operations. 
The JCS agreed with the revised schedule. 

At the same time. Admiral Sharp raised objection to the JCS directives 
that prohibited the destroyers from approaching closer than twelve miles 
to the North Vietnamese coastline, even in hot pursuit. Noting his 
dissatisfaction with the rules of engagement, the Pacific commander 

A United States ship has been attacked on the high seas off North 
Vietnam. The Maddox quite properly repulsed the attackers and one of 
the attacking boats was destroyed. Now, our friends and enemies alike 
will await what additional moves the United States will take. [The JCS 
directives] appear to be a retreat at a time when aggressive measures are 
necessary. - 

In response, the JCS reaffirmed the decision that the Desoto Patrol ships 
were barred from entry into the eleven-mile zone, even in hot pursuit. 
However, in the event of an attack on the patrol, aircraft could retaliate 
against the attackers in waters up to three miles of the enemy coastline. '' 
As his ships returned to the patrol track on the morning of Tuesday, 4 
August, Captain Herrick again expressed his concern for the safety of the 
U.S. force. The task group commander concluded that the "evaluation of 
info from various sources indicates that DRV considers patrol directly 
involved with 34-A OPs. DRV considers U.S. ships present as enemies 
because of these OPs and have already indicated their readiness to treat us 

™Msgs, COM7FLT 031712Z Aug 1964; COM7FLT 031134Z Aug; COMUSMACV 031231Z. 
"'Msg, CPFLT 032259Z Aug 1964. See also Sharp, Interview, pp. 222-23, 226. 
"Msg, CP 032353Z Aug 1964. See also msgs, CPFLT 032259Z Aug; JCS 032351Z; 040331Z. 
"Msg, JCS 041433Z Aug 1964. 

426 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

in that category."'^ Herrick believed that the enemy was especially 
sensitive about the area around Hon Me because of his concentration of 
coastal patrol forces there. The captain felt that his ships would be most 
vulnerable to the enemy at that point. The North Vietnamese could hide 
behind the island and then launch a sudden attack that would be difficult 
to detect or repulse because of the short distance to the Desoto Patrol 
track. ^^ 

Night Action in the Gulf of Tonkin 

At 0700H on the morning of 4 August, almost seven hours after the 
PTF force departed their target area off Vinh Son, Maddox and Turner Joy 
turned west toward the North Vietnamese coast, arriving in the vicinity of 
Point Delta around 1400H. The ships then proceeded to the southwest 
toward Point Charlie with Ticonderoga aircraft circling overhead or nearby. 
At 1435H Captain Herrick reported having been shadowed for the past 
four hours from a distance of fifteen miles by a vessel he believed to be a 
motor gunboat. About 1700H, the Desoto Patrol force reached a position 
to the northeast of Point Charlie, changed course to the east, and headed 
out to sea. At no time did the patrol sail closer than sixteen miles to the 

The North Vietnamese were fully aware of the passage of the American 
ships. Late in the afternoon of 4 August, Swatows T-142 and T-146 
received orders from the naval headquarters in Haiphong to prepare for 
military operations that night. T-333, one of the P-4s involved in the 
action on 2 August, also was scheduled to participate in the operation. 
But, due to an inability to repair her lubricating oil casualty, this unit was 
not able to deploy. Based on the subsequent U.S. contact with a number 
of enemy vessels, it is clear that other unidentified units were alerted as 
well.^*" Learning that another attack was planned, at 2040H Captain 
Herrick sent a "flash" precedence message stating that he had received 
information "indicating attack by PGM/P-4 imminent" and that the 

""Msg, CTG72.1 040140Z Aug 1964. 

^''Hearings on the Gu!/ of Tonkin, the 1964 Incidents, pp. 17, 92. 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin All 

patrol force was "proceeding southeast at best speed. "^^ By then, the ships 
were more than sixty nautical miles southeast of Hon Me at 19 10.7'N 
107 E on a heading of 90 and at a speed of 20 knots. 

Maddox, using her surface radar for long-range search, was 1,000 yards 
ahead of Turner Joy. Subsequent to the engagement on the night of 4 
August, Commander Ogier reported that the contacts detected on his 
destroyer's radar were bona fide. Weather and wake contacts were quickly 
identified as such. And meteorological conditions that night were 
particularly good for radar operations. No North Vietnamese junks or 
fishing craft sailed that far out to sea after dark, and none was detected 
that night. With their scopes free of clutter, the experienced naval 
radarmen could clearly distinguish the enemy fast craft.'^ Weather 
conditions in the Gulf of Tonkin that night included a 10 to 20-knot wind 
from the southeast and intermittent thunderstorms. Because of the cloud 
cover, with a ceiling at about 2,000 feet, the night was moonless and dark. 
The sea was moderate with 2 to 6-foot waves. 

At 204 IH on 4 August, Maddox picked up a surface contact forty-two 
miles to the northeast in the area where both ships had intended to cruise 
during the night. This was the same position used by the Desoto Patrol 
destroyers the previous night. During the next hour, first Maddox and 
then Turner Joy established clear radar contact with three surface vessels 
that Captain Herrick determined were patrol craft because of their speeds 
in excess of 30 knots. The unidentified craft attempted to close with the 
Desoto Patrol ships.'' 

At that point, Captain Herrick ordered both U.S. destroyers to change 
course to the southeast (130 and then 140 ) at maximum speed. Fearing a 

^^Msg, CTG72.1 041240Z Aug 1964. The turn to the southeast actually was not ordered until 
2046H. See also msgs, 040635Z Aug; 042158Z; JRC (JCS), "Chronology of Events Relating to the 
Gulf of Tonkin Incidents," p. 314; Sharp, Strategy For Defeat, p. 43. 

'^For instance, Seaman Dennis P. Plzak, who manned Turner Joy's surface search radar, stated after 
the attack: "I have spent many hours on the surface search and 1 evaluate them as definite contacts. It 
appeared to me that there was a definite plan used by the craft. At one time I held clearly three 
contacts, one directly astern of us and two moving in and out." Dennis P. Plzak, Statement of 7 Aug 
1964. See also Robert E. Johnson, and Marshall L. Hakala, Statements, of 7 Aug; DESDIV 192, 
Chronology, ser 002 of 13 Aug; Maddox, Patrol Report, set 002 of 24 Aug; Maddox, Action Report, 
ser 004 of 25 Aug; Turner Joy, Action Report, ser 004 of 11 Sep. 

''Another contact, possibly equipped with radar, was detected as close as twenty miles to the east 
and paralleling the American ships' passage south but made no attempt to close with them. This was 
perhaps the Swatow motor gunboat that Captain Herrick and Commander Barnhart believed used its 
radar to vector the P-4s toward the destroyers. See Turner Joy, Action Report, ser 004 of 1 1 Sep 1964, 
p. vi-2; DESDIV 192, Chronology, ser 002 of 13 Aug 1964, p. 2. 


United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 






i^.i\ V.A 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 429 

trap, the task group commander attempted to open the threatening 
contacts. However, the latter vessels turned as well to intersect the course 
of the American ships. At 2107H, radar on Maddox determined that the 
three surface craft had joined in close formation about thirty-two miles 
from the ship. With both U.S. destroyers now proceeding at 30-knot 
speed, Herrick changed their heading more to the southeast (160 ). By 
2145H, the radar contacts had drifted out of range and disappeared aft. 

Almost one-half hour later, both Maddox and Turner Joy picked up three 
or four contacts in close formation only thirteen miles behind and 
approaching at 30 knots. The fire control radars of both ships locked on 
these contacts. The threatening surface craft closed to 23,200 yards. At 
this point, Maddox and Turner Joy radars identified another contact only 
9,800 yards due east and approaching at 35 to 40 knots. When this latter 
craft (shown as contact VI on page 430 chart) closed to 7,000 yards, at 
2239H, Turner Joy opened fire. Maddox immediately followed suit. The 
ships then were at 18° 17'N 107° 32'E.^° 

Almost at the same time, the single contact to the east turned to the left 
and opened range. Lieutenant (j.g.) Frederick M. Frick, the watch officer 
in the Maddox combat information center (CIC), evaluated this maneuver, 
plotted and recorded on his dead reckoning tracer, as a torpedo launch. In 
short order, sonar on Maddox reported torpedo noises.^' Commander 
Ogier ordered full right rudder to comb the track of the suspected 
torpedo and warned Turner Joy.^^ The latter destroyer immediately came 
right on course 210 just as crewmen spotted a torpedo wake. Lieutenant 
(j.g.) John J. Barry, USNR, the officer in charge of Fire Control Director 

^"Turner Joy'% Deck Log and Quartermaster Log state that fire was opened at 2235H but this is not 
supported by the ship's CIC Log or other sources. 

*'The reports of sonar contacts were less reliable than those of radar. The sonarmen in Maddox had 
not trained with their equipment while the ship steamed at 30 knots. Thus, engine, aircraft, ship 
propeller, and other noises could be misinterpreted as torpedo noises. Still, this first reported torpedo 
was considered valid, as were rwo others, by a number of sources, including Captain Herrick. He 
overheard the sound of the torpedo running on the bridge speaker system when sonar reported. See 
John J. Herrick, Statement, of 7 Aug 1964. See also Frederick M. Frick, Statement, of 7 Aug; Maddox, 
Action Report, ser 004 of 25 Aug; Maddox, Patrol Repon, ser 002 of 24 Aug; COM7FLT, ■'NVN PT 
Boat Exploitation Team Report," p. IV.I.l. 

^^At no time during the night engagement did Turner Joy's sonar detect torpedo noises. However, 
the particular type of sonar carried by the destroyer was noted for its poor performance. During 
previous peacetime exercises, dummy torpedoes passed Turner Joy close aboard without being 
detected. Indeed, at the time when the first torpedo was sighted, Turner Joy's sonar could not hear the 
screws of Maddox, only 1,000 yards ahead, because of the turbulence of her wake. See Turner Joy, 
Action Repon, ser 004 of 11 Sep 1964. 


United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

2239 H 
Opens Fire 

Dead in Water 
Damaged or Sunk 

0003 H^^\ 

Hits Observed^^Pi 

Believed Sunk IN 

sunK n J 



— * — Contacts ■=» 

2328 H 

Hits and Black Smoke 

Observed, Believed Sunk 

2347 H-2354 H 

PT Sighted 

Depth Charge Dropped 

Searchlight Sighted 

Ram Attempted 

0010 H 

Depth Charge Dropped 



Naval Action on the Night of 4 August 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf of Tonkin 431 

5 1 located high in the ship's superstructure, spied "a distinct wake. ..on the 
port side about five hundred feet from the ship. ..moving from aft forward 
on a parallel course to this ship." He added that the "wake itself appeared 
light in color and more just below the surface than anything cutting the 
water on the surface" and that it "formed a definite vee in the water." 
Barry, an experienced ASW officer, had seen many actual torpedo wakes 
prior to the August incidents.®^ This sighting of a torpedo wake 100 to 
500 feet to port was corroborated by one of Barry's subordinates, Seaman 
Larry O. Litton, by Seaman Rodger N. Bergland positioned in Fire 
Control Director 52, and by the port side lookout, Seaman Edwin R. 
Sentel, the latter of whom reported the information to the bridge.*'' When 
the hostile craft returned at 50 knots on an intercept course, two 5-inch 
mounts on Turner Joy again took it under fire. Fire control radar indicated 
that hits were scored. 

At 2210FI, one F-8 Crusader and two A-4D Skyhawks arrived 
overhead to provide a combat air patrol. Although aircraft overflew the 
Desoto Patrol ships all day, they had retired to Ticonderoga at dusk. When 
Rear Admiral Robert B. Moore, Commander Task Force 77, received 
Captain Herrick's request for air support at 2125H, he immediately 
launched the three-plane alert force. Fifteen minutes later, four A-IH 
Skyraiders were sent aloft. Additional planes later were launched from 
Constellation, making a total of sixteen aircraft providing protection 
overhead. But, the effectiveness of this air cover was limited due to the 
darkness of the night, cloudy sky, and unsatisfactory illumination de- 
vices.*' The aircraft strafed waters where the enemy boats were believed 
to be, but most of the pilots, including future Vice Admiral and Medal of 
Fionor recipient Commander James Stockdale, did not see any hostile 
craft. Nonetheless, the pilots of two Ticonderoga A-ls, Commander George 
Fi. Edmondson, commanding officer of VA 58, and his wingman. 

"John J. Barry, Statement, of 7 Aug 1964. 

'■"Larry O. Litton, Statement, of 7 Aug 1964; Rodger N. Bergland Statement of 7 Aug; Edwin R. 
Sentel, Statement, of 7 Aug; DESDIV 192, Chronology, ser 002 of 13 Aug; Maddox, Action Report, 
ser 004 of 25 Aug; Turner Joy, Action Repon, ser 004 of 1 1 Sep. Seven years later. Lieutenant (j.g.) 
Barry and Seaman Bergland maintained the accuracy of their torpedo wake sighting. See Windchy, 
Tonkin Gulf, pp.27 1-73- 

*'ln fact, while the various flares and star shells proved of little assistance in locating the small 
enemy boats in the inky night. Commander Ogier believed that they did help the North Vietnamese 
maintain contact with the larger destroyers. See Maddox, Action Report, ser 004 of 25 Aug 1964, p. 

432 United States Navy and Vietnam Conflict 

Lieutenant Jere A. Barton, both experienced at night search, reported 
significant information. Flying between 700 and 1,500 feet above the 
water, the aviators sighted gun flashes as well as bursts of light at their 
altitude that they attributed to an enemy vessel's antiaircraft fire. On one 
pass over the destroyers, Commander Edmondson identified a "snakey," 
high-speed wake a mile and a half ahead of Maddox, the lead ship. 
Lieutenant Barton on another pass spotted a dark object, in the wake 
midway between the two destroyers, that soon moved away from the ships 
and out of sight. *'' 

At 2242H all surface contacts were gone from the radars oi Maddox and 
Turner Joy, now steaming independently. For the next ten minutes, both 
ships maneuvered to avoid possible torpedoes reported by sonar. Then at 
230 IH, Turner Joy picked up several contacts between 2,000 to 6,000 
yards to the west. At 2310H and 2318H, the ship briefly opened fire on 
the fleeting targets. One contact (V2) was plotted dead in the water and 
subsequently presumed damaged or sunk, but verification was not 

Heading south again at 232 IH, Turner Joy tracked another surface craft 
(V3) 3,600 yards aft of her and closing at 48 knots. When the hostile 
contact reached 2,500 yards, the ship's guns opened up with a heavy 
volume of fire. Crewmen observed numerous explosions. ^^ Radarmen also 
witnessed many hits on the target, which disappeared from all screens at 
2328H.^* Commander Robert C. Barnhart, Turner Joy's commanding 
officer, and others saw a thick column of black smoke rise from the target 
area. This boat was presumed sunk. 

Soon afterward, another high-speed contact (V4) approached from the 
north following Turner Joy. The ship changed course to starboard several 

*'^Msg, CTF77 070252Z Aug 1964. Admiral Stockdale's account appears in Loie and War, pp. 1 1- 
24, 453-55. In 1971, after his retirement. Commander Edmonson reconfirmed these visual observations. 
See Windchy, Tonkin Gulf. p. 279. 

"'Throughout the engagement that night, a number of sailors witnessed the damage or destruction 
of enemy vessels. Topside personnel observed explosions on plotted targets followed by fire. Turner 
Joy Seaman Patrick C. McWeeney, for instance, "saw what appeared to be a small craft burning off the 
starboard bow about 30 on the horizon" and "watched it burn for about 20 seconds and then go out, 
like the craft sunk." Patrick C. McWeeney, Statement, of 8 Aug 1964. See also Rodger N. Bergland, 
Dean L. Abney, Charles D. Reed, Statements, of 8 Aug. 

"'Although unspecific as to time. Chief Radarman Robert E. Johnson reported one contact that 
night "saturated by shell fire on the scope" and when "firing ceased, the contact remained 
for.. .approximately fifteen seconds, then disappeared," which he evaluated as indicating that the boat 
was sunk. Robert E. Johnson, Statement, of 7 Aug 1964. See also Dennis P. Plzak, Marshall L. 
Hakala, Statements, of 7 Aug. 

Naval Engagements in the Gulf oj Tonkin 433 

times and the contact overshot the destroyer's wake. In the Ught of star 
shells fired by Maddox and flares dropped by aircraft, Turner Joy crewmen 
identified this target as an enemy PT boat. Boatswain's Mate 3rd Class 
Donald V. Sharkey, Seaman Kenneth E. Garrison, and Gunner's Mate 
Delner Jones all observed the craft from their station at the 3-inch/50- 
caliber Gun Mount 32. Sharkey stated that the "outline of this contact was 
clearly seen by me and was definitely a PT boat."*^ Garrison corroborated 
this sighting and added that "I saw it long enough to make sure what it 
was."'° The day after the battle, 5 August, Jones sketched the craft, which 
he had seen for the first time the previous night, for Radarman 1st Class 
John B. Spanka. Garrison agreed with the accuracy of this visual 
representation. Then Spanka compared the drawing with an intelligence 
photograph of a P-4 PT boat. He found that the "two were very similar in 
nature" and "particularly noteworthy was the elongated bow." Spanka 
added, "I had no trouble identifying his sketch as the P-4."'' 

At 2347H Turner Joy dropped a depth charge astern in an attempt to 
shake the enemy pursuer. Throughout the latter part of the action, several 
enemy craft appeared to guide on the wakes of the two destroyers. 
Commander Ogier believed the North Vietnamese used this tactic 
because they lacked on board radar.'' Around this time a seaman 
amidships and sailors manning Gun Mount 3 1 in Turner Joy observed 
machine gun fire hit the water from aft forward, about 40 or 50 yards to 
port. It is possible, however, that what they were seeing was the splash of 
American shell fragments. '^ At 2354H Commander Barnhart turned his 
ship hard left and attempted to ram the craft, but without success. The 
enemy boat, now 1,500 yards on the starboard side of the U.S. destroyer, 
was taken under fire exactly at midnight. At 0003H on 5 August, after 
radarmen observed four bursts on target, the contact disappeared from the 

"Donald V. Sharkey, Statement, of 7 Aug 1964. 

'"Kenneth E. Garrison, Statement, of 7 Aug 1964. See also Dean L. Abney, Statement, of 8 Aug 
1964; DESDIV 192, Chronology, ser 002 of 13 Aug; Turner Joy, Action Report, ser 004 of 11 Sep. 

"John B. Spanka, Statement, of 9 Aug 1964. See also Delner Jones, Statement, of 7 Aug 1964; 
Arthur B. Anderson, Statement, of 7 Aug. 

''^Turner Joy and Maddox detected no seaborne radar emissions during the engagement. It should be 
noted, however, that the ECM equipment in both ships was found to be inadequate for the task. See 
Maddox, Patrol Report, ser 002 of 24 Aug 1964, p. 4. See also Maddox, Action Report, ser 004 of 25 
Aug; Turner Joy, Action Report, ser 004 of 1 1 Sep. 

'^Harvey A. Headley, Jr., Thomas Contreras, Donald L. Vance, and Anthony J. Rosenbaum, 
Statements, of 8 Aug 1964. 

434 United States Nary and Vietnam Conflict 

During the last attack, all of Turner Joy's bridge personnel, including 
Commander Barnhart, sighted a searchlight to the north in the general 
vicinity of the trailing enemy boats. Senior Chief Quartermaster Walter L. 
Shishim related that he observed the light "by eye and its beam. 
binoculars" and that it "remained at constant brightness and the beam was 
an elongated fan shape pointing up."'^ Signalman 3rd Class Gary D. 
Carroll added that "the light was moving around and at times skyward. It 
made a couple of swoops at us before going out."'' His shipmate, 
Signalman 2nd Class Richard M. Bacino, concluded that "as a Signalman, 
I feel I can tell a searchlight from any other light that could possibly be 
mistaken for such.""' Several of the men verified through the CIC the 
current position of Maddox, which ruled out that ship as the source of the 
light. When American aircraft were dispatched to investigate what was 
perhaps a North Vietnamese boat-to-boat signalling attempt, the light was 

Meanwhile, Maddox, almost ten miles to the west of Turner Joy, dropped 
a depth charge and fired in the general vicinity of a contact reported 
astern. No results were observed. At 001 OH Turner Joy took similar 
actions to ward off a contact (V5) trailing her. For the next forty minutes, 
the U.S. destroyers dropped depth charges or fired their guns at contacts. 
At the same time. Turner Joy returned to her position 4,000 yards astern of 
Maddox. The Desoto Patrol ships then steamed for the mouth of the gulf 
and a rendezvous with destroyer Samuel N. Moore. There were no further 
sightings of the enemy. - 

The entire engagement lasted about four hours. Throughout the melee, 
Maddox and Turner Joy fired 249 5-inch shells, including 24 star shells, and 
123 3-inch rounds. The two destroyers also dropped four or five depth 
charges, one of which failed to detonate, against boats following in their 
wakes. '^ 

'■'Walter L. Shishim, Statement, of 7 Aug 1964. 

"Gary D. Carroll, Statement, of 7 Aug 1964. 

'^Richard M. Bacino, Statement, of 7 Aug 1964. 

'^Richard M. Bacino, Gary D. Carroll, Richard B.Johnson, Walter L. Shishim, Richard D. Nooks, 
Statements, of 7 Aug 1964; DESDIV 192, Chronology, ser 002 of 13 Aug 1964. 

''"DESDIV 192, Chronology, ser 002 of 13 Aug; Maddox, Patrol